A 'New Day' for CNN: Morning

CNN uses its big names and ad-free half hour to woo early viewers

It took “New Day” about 13 minutes to move from the same-old CNN to something a little different.

The new CNN ayem program has been billed by none other than the Time Warner cabler’s relatively new president, Jeff Zucker, as a program with a “generationally” different team of anchors: former ABC Newser Chris Cuomo, former Washington correspondent Kate Bolduan and Los Angeles export Michaela Pereira. The trio hit the screen today at 6 a.m. Eastern (with a promo by Cuomo and Bolduan surfacing on lead-in program “Early Start” at about 5:57) sounding a lot like traditional CNN. Their interplay didn’t truly surface until the news of the day had been transmitted.

Where MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” led off with a look at the notion that Russian President Vladmir Putin might have stolen a Super Bowl Ring (and a shot at anchor Mika Brzezinski’s purple shoe) and Fox News Channel’s ”Fox & Friends” led with reports on an IRS whistleblower placed on leave and a vigilante locking teenage vandals in a closet while waiting for police, “New Day” led with, well, CNN.

The program touted the findings of a CNN poll that determined Americans found President Obama less trustworthy, and moved from that into discussions of a new report suggesting the U.S. had spied on leaders last year at a G-8 summit and U.S. collection of consumers’ electronic data (At 7 a.m. ABC’s “Good Morning America,” CBS’s “CBS This Morning” and NBC’s “Today” would also focus on the G8 summit and/or U.S. spying revelations). Adding to the CNN branding was a spoken intro by James Earl Jones.

But once the hard news of the day was dispensed, the trio began to open up a bit – even knocking down the Putin-stolen Super Bowl ring story with a few sentences. At about 6:16 a.m., co-anchor Bolduan commented on a longish report on golfer Phil Mickelson’s string of second-place finishes in the U.S. Open by saying, “As the great philosophers of Journey would say, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.”

“You just quoted Journey!” Periera retorted.

That’s the moment, perhaps, when the show’s differences from the rest of CNN tradition began to come to the fore. Was it the trio’s banter upon seeing a video of a teen driver chasing a bear? Was it the red-brick-and-glass design of the set, or the sight of the hosts sitting around a glass table or on a white sofa – not standing in front of a screen a la Wolf Blitzer or holding forth from a desk as hosts of CNN morning programs have for years? Or was it the light-blue-and-off-white of what seemed to be new on-screen graphics? Whatever the telltale sign, CNN’s “New Day” veered from the channel’s norms – albeit slightly.

In the normal course of things, a new morning program on CNN isn’t particularly newsworthy. The cable network has retooled several versions of its long-running but now canceled effort, “American Morning,” while consistently churning through on-air talent. But ayem TV is where CNN prexy Zucker first came to fame – his touch on “Today” during the late 80s and early 90s is the stuff of boob-tube legend. Zucker and exec producer Jim Murphy have billed “New Day” as a way to set the agenda for the network’s broadcast day.

And it may also be a way for the network to gain viewership. As GMA has taken the ratings crown from NBC’s “Today it’s clear everyone who plays in this arena sees a chance for gains. CBS’s “CBS This Morning” has gained traction. Minutes before the big broadcast nets launched the Monday versions of their programs at 7 a.m. , Bolduan announced “New Day” would stay on the air for 30 minutes, commercial free.

The next two hours tended to repeat the cycle: Hard news at the top of the hour, with the top members of CNN’s staff – John King, Jessica Yellin, Dana Bash – all showing up in rapid-fire succession. But once the formalities had been discussed, the show wandered between “important” news items – a bomb threat on a Denver flight, for instance, or Colorado wildfires – and the usual fluffernutter of the time period, like a man who got a tattoo of a woman in a bikini pushing a lawn mower on his bald head. Guest stars from across the network’s holdings, including HLN’s Nancy Grace and CNN’s international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, also surfaced at key moments.

By 8:40 a.m., the three anchors seemed ready to let all the air out of the proceedings, sitting on a couch and showing video of themselves eating cheeseburgers. Cuomo proved he can whip out a pretty good impression of Gene Wilder as “Willy Wonka,” though there’s no telling if that skill will serve him well in days to come.

No matter how adept this trio is at grappling with the national news and international politics that started the program or the trending-topics listicles that closed it, the only thing clear about “New Day” at this point is that it will take a whole lot of “New Days” for CNN to determine whether this current incarnation of its morning programming is working and sustainable.

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