CNN picks Miller to light up ‘Evening’

Cabler to keep show focused on news, not entertainment

NEW YORK — On May 9, CNN anchor Paula Zahn quietly left the set of her new primetime show for vacation.

The newscast still had no executive producer and no definable format. And with CNN in a ratings malaise, Zahn’s performance was under intense scrutiny.

In other words, Zahn risked being hurt for what was really CNN’s problem — a newscast in limbo.

Zahn, former anchor of CNN’s “American Morning,” is returning to the primetime newscast June 2. There’s also a new exec producer onboard, Hollywood writer-producer James Andrew Miller.

CNN announced Miller’s hire last week, charging him with shaping the newscast, “American Evening.” Until the launch, the show will keep its temporary title, “Live From the Headlines.”

“It’s not a question of what others are doing. It is a question of creating a provocative news program,” Miller tells Variety. “I think that every single day we are going to make sure that we are accurate and focusing on the news.”

However, Miller’s resume is weighted toward entertainment, not news. Most recently he has been consulting for ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

CNN apparently has no intention of turning Zahn’s newscast — to be formally launched later this summer–into an entertainment program.

“That’s not at all the direction we want to go. It is going to be a newscast playing to Paula’s strengths. She’s a great interviewer,” one CNN exec says. “We want someone who recognizes that there are stories outside of New York and Washington. We have the newsgathering to do that.”

Initially, CNN entertained the idea of using a morning show format for “American Idea.” The idea was short-lived, however.

Zahn’s newscast now will run two hours, 7-9 p.m. EDT. Two hours is considered unusually long for a primetime newscast and CNN is likely eventually to scale it back to one hour.

If the show airs from 8-9 p.m., it will compete with one of TV’s smash hits, Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”

On May 29, Miller traveled to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a meet-and-greet. His new post is effective immediately.

“Miller will bring some new perspectives and directions to a news broadcast. It should have a personality, much as Aaron Brown’s show has a personality,” says top Gotham agent Richard Leibner, whose agency reps both Miller and Zahn.

ABC News execs give Miller rave reviews, saying he is innovative and savvy.

Miller began his career as a producer for CBS News, but left the biz to pursue a writing career.

He has produced and written for Dick Wolf Prod. and served briefly as exec VP of programming for USA Networks.

And along with TV critic Tom Shales, Miller co-wrote last year’s bestseller “Live from New York: An Uncensored History of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ “