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Brooke Baldwin Gives Surprising Boost to CNN

Brooke Baldwin is the anchor in a storm. Like other members of CNN’s daytime lineup, she broadcasts from an open set nestled among rows of desks and workstations in the main newsroom of the Time Warner-owned cable network. Forget about the staffers walking around or the guests coming in the door. The ambient noise alone is enough to drive someone to distraction.

“A lot of times, people forget there’s a live show happening. People will be adjusting blinds. Every so often, I’m like “Ahhh!’ But for the most part, I love it,” says Baldwin in a recent interview that took place at CNN minutes after she came off the air. “I definitely feed off of people.”

For years, Baldwin held forth from CNN studios in Atlanta. Since last summer, however, she has worked from New York, and the move appears to have made a difference. In the first quarter of 2015, her two-hour edition of “CNN Newsroom” saw its overall viewership improve by 22%, according to Nielsen, while her audience in the demographic most coveted by advertisers in news programming, people between 25 and 54, rose 26%. During a recent segment looking at an Indiana man who established a “First Church of Cannabis,” Baldwin’s face could barely contain her bemusement. Actor Seth Rogen found the segment noteworthy enough to talk about on Twitter, where it was retweeted by 4,600 people.

Others have noticed the 35-year-old anchor. Last weekend, “Saturday Night Live” took a jaundiced look at CNN’s animated reenactments of the activity on the Germanwings flight that crashed as the result of a co-pilot’s move to commit suicide. The anchor hosting the segment? Baldwin, as played by “SNL” cast member Cecily Strong. Baldwin took it as “a total compliment.”

More seriously, Baldwin is doing what much of CNN cannot. On select occasions, her program has notched more viewers 25-54 than the shows opposite her on Fox News Channel. In January, Baldwin’s “CNN Newsroom” averaged 178,000 viewers in that category in both the 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. hours, according to Nielsen, compared with 165,000 for the first hour at Fox News and 161,000 for the second. The 21st Century Fox-owned outlet was not being broadcast by Dish for the first half of the month owing to a carriage dispute that was eventually resolved.  In the last full week of March, Baldwin did the same thing against both hours, hosted by Gretchen Carlson and Shepard Smith, respectively, for three days in a row, buoyed by breaking-news items like the decision on soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Fox remains the most-watched cable-news network by viewers overall and the 25-54 demo in those timeslots.

“CNN being in front of Fox on a consistent basis has not happened a lot,” notes Michael Bass, senior VP of programming at CNN. Baldwin’s ability to raise the level of competition in some instances “is pretty exceptional.”

TV tends to focus on primetime, but at the cable-news outlets, daytime is nothing to ignore. The programming is typically not as personality-driven, but it is the bedrock of the most of the networks’ schedules. MSNBC, beset by poor ratings, has made no secret of the fact that it is trying to broaden the scope of its coverage. The NBCUniversal project started its efforts by reworking its daytime schedule, canceling programs led by Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid, two anchors who tended to focus on issue-oriented programing over breaking-news coverage.

Baldwin tries not to dwell overmuch on the ratings. “I always believe with a great day, you also have a not-great day,” she says. “I really focus on giving the viewers compelling television, and hope that more and more people watch.”

Next week, she will get a chance to display some of her ability in a new venue. She will fill in for Don Lemon at 10 p.m., anchoring an hour that can be pretty frenetic. It’s not the first time she has ventured into the evening. After all, CNN tested her with appearances at 11:30 p.m. in late 2013. But the new duties come during primetime, where the network’s ratings seem to be always under scrutiny.

Baldwin hopes to “dive deep into some stories with great guests, and move my bedtime back quite a bit,” she says. She will continue to host the afternoon program.

The late-afternoon edition of “Newsroom” is important, said Bass, because it helps gather an audience and feed it into programming with a harder news focus like “The Lead With Jake Tapper” and “OutFront With Erin Burnett.”  Baldwin is able to “turn on a dime” from hard news to softer stuff, he said, moving from plane crashes to “talk-about” items like Martha Stewart’s recent profanity-laced performance on a Comedy Central roast.

“She has the ability to go from one to the other, and that’s quite a talent” he says. “That has something to do with her curiosity. She’s interested in a lot of things.”

Baldwin has maintained that inquisitiveness for some time. While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Baldwin studied both journalism and Spanish. At CNN since 2008, she created a series of Monday interviews with prominent musicians (sitting down with Stevie Wonder, she says, remains a goal). And in recent months, she has gone head to head with Charles Barkley and fought back tears during a live broadcast while interviewing the husband of a woman who chose assisted suicide.

“There’s a genuineness that I hope I offer to viewers,” Baldwin explains, who has hosted the timeslot for about five years. “People who come and sit on the set where we are surrounded by lights and cameras, where they are nervous, when we are done they say to me they forgot we were on TV.” The end result? “I make them feel comfortable, which makes for a better interview.”

She recently took herself out of the CNN whirlwind, journeying to Africa, where she climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. CNN wanted her to call in from the summit via satellite phone, but she declined. “This was a ‘me’ trip,” she explains. Baldwin did consent to take “selfies” with a GoPro and tapped out a long piece about what the experience meant for her “somewhere between Zanzibar and Amsterdam” for CNN’s digital properties.

She hopes to write more for the news organization, whether the topic be women’s issues or other excursions she might like to take. “I like to share myself,” she says. If the ratings for her program continue to percolate, Baldwin may have more opportunity to do so.

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