×

Inside CNN’s Frenzied and Sometimes Freaky New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is the night on which most CNN anchors let their hair down. Well, except for Anderson Cooper.

Cooper has been CNN’s on-air host for New Year’s Eve since 2002, and his most memorable moments from the stint typically surface as he tries to rein in others who appear with him – hoping Kathy Griffin will tone down her antics, reacting to Don Lemon in New Orleans, and, most recently, trying to keep current co-host Andy Cohen from going overboard with visitors.

“I just try to keep the trains running on time,” says Cooper during a recent interview. “It’s always some sort of disaster waiting to happen, whether it’s Andy insulting one of the guests by asking a question that a guest has no desire to be asked about — and so, yeah, I wince at things a lot, I guess.”

Cooper is typically demure, but he has helped CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage develop into a long-running TV tradition. While Ryan Seacrest commands a significantly larger audience over at ABC, Cooper has held his New Year’s Eve duties longer (Seacrest took the reins from the legendary Dick Clark in 2006). Yes, Fox News Channel, Fox Broadcasting and NBC also hold New Year’s celebrations on air, but Cooper’s annual presence in Times Square has become as much a part of the nation’s “Auld Lang Syne” as anything else.

“I was surprised by what a big night it is,” recounts Cohen. “I had people coming up to me for days before on the street. It really is a universally watched event for all demographics.”

The event also feels different for CNN, which has found itself as much a part of the President Trump-dominated news cycle as the White House or Congress. On New Year’s Eve, viewers get to see odd sights from around the country, and for years, an appearance by CNN correspondent Gary Tuchman and his daughter, Lindsay, an anchor for Charter Communiations’ NY1 in New York, as they chronicle offbeat activities in different parts of the United States. CNN’s New Year’s coverage has expanded over the years. Once just half an hour, it now lasts around five.

The New Year’s Eve broadcast – built on a premise of Cooper in Times Square anchoring feeds from various CNN correspondents around the country – breaks convention. One recent promo for the event shows primetime anchor Chris Cuomo doing pull-ups and depicts a “Cuomo Muscle Drink.” Another looks a lot like a cheesy 1970’s style direct response commercial and urges viewers to call 1-844-NYE-2018 to get an “AC Squared Party Kit.” Those who dial will hear Cohen tell them that it’s not a real product, then urge them to tune in on December 31.

No James Earl Jones. No “Facts First.” For one night, this is CNN.

The two co-hosts say they have honed their rapport since first appearing together last year. They’ve worked out the kinks. Cohen vows to stop complaining about the weather. “I think we are going to have more fun this year,” says Cooper. “We’ll be more ourselves.” The two travel together frequently on a national tour, and “we have a shorthand with each other,” says Cohen, that the audience will see in greater doses.

Cooper says he admires Cohen’s ability to turn anything into an adventure. And then he rattles off a crazy anecdote about the Bravo host taking pictures of people on a rooftop near Cohen’s apartment, then meeting up with them after posting their antics on Instagram. “In a million years, I would not have gone over, and Andy, of course, wasn’t having it. Andy said that every friend was once a stranger, so I went,” Cooper recalls. “He still surprises me with stuff.”

New Year’s Eve on CNN often brings other surprises. After Cooper signs off, Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon host a more raucous half hour from New Orleans. They’ve been paired together since 2015, and often make their own headlines. One year, Lemon got his ear pierced on live TV, and he has been spotted having a few drinks.

“Let’s just say I’m having a great time. I am in control,” says Lemon. “I do consume alcohol, but I’m never out of control.”  People want to see the anchors in the midst of New Year’s festivities, he says, not covering heavy stories if there are none at hand. And he is conscious of what he’s doing. “The idea is to have fun. What can I do that’s interesting and engaging for the audience?” Lemon adds. “I do realize if I’m going to get a tattoo, I am making that decision.”

For her part, Baldwin says her on-screen energy is natural. “My rule — and I feel like this is a pretty good rule for life–  no drinking while on television. I do not ever imbibe.”

The two have no script in front of them, no patter worked out ahead of time.  “There is zero preparation. It’s all about having fun,” says Baldwin. “We just know where we are going. Our process is he comes and finds me as I’m getting hair and makeup. We just start getting excited and roll over to the venue and take it as it comes.” This year’s plans involve a dunking booth and a tribute to Aretha Franklin. Get ready.

Cooper initially took the New Year’s Eve job because he hated going out that night. “It’s just too much pressure,” he notes. Now, his time on screen at the end of the year has almost become de rigueur.  Other New Year’s Eve countdown shows “have huge budgets, and they have so many things going on,” he says. “This is the little engine that could.”

More TV

  • Russell Tovey on His 'Arrogant and

    Russell Tovey on His 'Arrogant and Heroic' 'Years and Years' Character

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the fourth episode of “Years and Years.” Russell T. Davies’ limited series “Years and Years” began with a birth, but it did not wait until the finale to book-end the story with a death. In the fourth episode of the multi-year spanning family drama, [...]

  • Hugh GRant photographed by Shayan Asgharnia

    Listen: Hugh Grant on Why He Would Kill Social Media if He Could

    Hugh Grant has been very active in U.K. press reform initiatives, but he knows the problem is even bigger than the media moguls who control the world’s major news outlets. That’s why Hacked Off, the campaign he’s involved with, is also expanding its scope to include the impact of online propaganda. “It’s particularly terrifying, the [...]

  • Veronica Mars -- "Heads You Lose"

    TV Review: 'Veronica Mars' Season 4

    “Veronica Mars” was a slap to the face of high school dramas when it premiered on UPN in 2004. Creator Rob Thomas took the well-worn “who killed the pretty teenager?” whodunnit and hard-boiled it, following a traumatized girl desperately trying to harden herself to the world’s harsh realities as she tried to solve the case. [...]

  • Norah O'Donnell Invokes Edward R. Murrow

    Norah O'Donnell Invokes Edward R. Murrow to Launch New Era at 'CBS Evening News'

    Though Norah O’Donnell had her first turn as anchor of “CBS Evening News” Monday night, she didn’t rely on any attention-grabbing tricks to carry the day. There was no flashy drawing board, no rattling off of unsettling, urgent headlines and no wrap-up of the day with a mawkish end segment calling up some element of [...]

  • Alton Brown

    TV News Roundup: Food Network Announces Premiere Date of 'Good Eats: The Return'

    In today’s roundup, Showtime releases a full-length trailer for “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” and Food Network announces the return of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats.”  DATES After taking a break from the series, Alton Brown will bring “Good Eats” back to Food Network’s primetime lineup with “Good Eats: The Return.”  In its first [...]

  • 9-1-1: Angela Bassett in the series

    Fox Sees Primetime, Sports Ad Gains As TV Upfront Wraps

    Fox Corporation is the latest to benefit from stronger-than-expected trends in TV ad spending, as the company notched strong gains in advertising commitments for its next cycle of programming – its first since selling off a large chunk of its media assets to Walt Disney. Ad demand was stronger than many executives anticipated, according to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content