TV Review: 'The Lead With Jake

Evaluating a five-day-a-week program based on its premiere is a fool’s errand, especially when the show is designed to be topical. Still, it’s worth noting how well a production team puts its best foot forward — with the luxury of time they won’t always have — providing at least a sense of a show’s direction and ambitions.

The Lead With Jake Tapper” made its debut on CNN Monday, occupying a relatively low-key hour in the afternoons. Still, Tapper’s arrival has generated a good deal of publicity (including a column by yours truly) — in part because he brings credibility from his time at ABC News, and partly because people are eager to peruse any signs of new chief Jeff Zucker’s footprint at CNN.

Tapper couldn’t elicit an answer from Stephen Colbert — one of his first guests — as to how he might be doing, but an instant response from this quadrant would be “quite good.” In fact, barring a few clunky moments, CNN could do a whole lot worse than using “The Lead” as a blueprint for the network, mixing in a variety of issues without pandering or posturing.

Structurally, Tapper’s show appears to have taken its lead from “Countdown With Keith Olbermann,” albeit without the partisan ideological bent. Using “The Lead” as connective tissue, the anchor raced through topics like “The National Lead,” “The World Lead,” “The Sports Lead,” “The Money Lead” and “The Culture Lead.”

Tapper demonstrated a light but firm touch, easily going from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Colbert to a group of Republican strategists. The writing, for the most part, didn’t overreach, with Tapper wryly suggesting the pushback to Bloomberg’s over-sized soft drink ban amounted to, “You can have my soda when you pry it from my cold, dead, and possibly pudgy hands.”

Not everything worked, starting with some of the correspondents. A lot of cable news reporters seem like they slammed a couple of Red Bulls before coming on air, and that’s not a particularly good fit with the kind of show Tapper’s doing, which is going for light, yes, but not silly. There was also an awkward in-studio chat with Wolf Blitzer, who dropped by — like a wacky sitcom neighbor — to plug his show and wish Tapper well, seemingly in that order. The longtime anchor might as well have showed up with a batch of cookies and balloons.

Still, this was a pretty sophisticated hour of news — I even learned a little something about the economy of Cyprus — without being stuff or pompous about it.

Inevitably, Tapper asked for Twitter suggestions and hashtag feedback, but here’s one more-than-140-character appraisal the old-fashioned way.

Nice start. Let’s hope you can keep it up.

The Lead With Jake Tapper

(Series; CNN, weekdays, 4 p.m. ET)

Executive producer, Federico Quadrani. 60 MIN.

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