Personality-driven hourlongs will air back to back

NEW YORK — Ending weeks of hush-hush planning, CNN on Monday will debut the two weeknight news programs built specifically for Anderson Cooper and Paula Zahn.

“Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees” will be a fast-paced, hourlong show with a lean toward globally significant stories; “Paula Zahn Now” will be an hourlong, issue-driven program built around interviews and relying on contributing commentators.

“360 Degrees” will air at 7 p.m. ET, “Now” at 8 p.m.

The newly revealed titles could be an indication of just how personality-driven CNN is becoming, news execs at other networks say. Even star network anchors Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings have a “with” in front of their names — example, NBC’s “Nightly News With Tom Brokaw.”

Rollout of “360 Degrees” and “Now” will mark a crucial step for new CNN prexy Jim Walton, who ordered the shows after taking over from Walter Isaacson last spring. One of Walton’s first moves was to cancel Connie Chung’s 8 p.m. talkshow, which rated well enough but was deemed rather tabloidy.

CNN is under intense ratings pressure, having lost the No. 1 spot in the cable news wars more than a year ago to Fox News Channel.

As of late last week, CNN was ready to talk only about Cooper’s hour, saying details of Zahn’s show are still being finalized.

Cooper, previously a weekend anchor for CNN, is considered one of the news industry’s rising stars. He says his program will cover the major events of the day, as well as reports on the legal, political and media worlds.

“We want to look at everything –from foreign policy to politics to pop culture — to give viewers a full range of the days’ stories,” said Cooper, who writes much of his own copy. “We hope to give viewers a comprehensive yet refreshing take on the day’s news.”

Cooper began his journalism career as a combat reporter in Africa in the early 1990s. He joined CNN in January 2001 from ABC News, where he anchored the overnight “World News Now,” as well as contributing reports to “World News Tonight,” “20/20″ and “20/20 Downtown.”

He also dabbled in entertainment as the original host for ABC reality series “The Mole.”

Getting both “360 Degrees” and “Now” on air has been a taxing process, with Cooper and Zahn having to anchor their respective timeslots while the shows were being developed.

“It’s difficult. You are putting on an evening program every day and then, on top of it, you are trying to reshape the system and move things in a different direction. It’s a lot of things to juggle,” Cooper said.

Originally, Zahn was moved from her duties as morning anchor to headline the entire 7-9 p.m. Eastern time slot, a long timeframe for a news show. Upon Zahn’s objections, CNN execs gave Anderson the first hour.

The cable news net brought in entertainment writer and producer James Miller to exec produce both shows.

“It’s exciting,” Cooper said. “I never got in the business to be an anchor, so it’s a surprising turn of events.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more
Post A Comment 0