Anderson Cooper's daytime dreams are not without risks
Anderson Cooper, the CNN newsman who has often tried to walk the fine line between serious journalist and television personality, is going to take a day job to complement his evening gig. Telepictures, the syndication unit of Warner Bros., has signed Cooper for a new talk show it plans on launching in the fall of 2011, just when Oprah Winfrey leaves the airwaves for her new cable network OWN.
Clearly Cooper has decided against, for now anyway, making the move to broadcast news. CBS may be in need of an anchor for its evening newscast when Katie Couric's contract is up, but if Cooper is busy doing daytime TV, he won't be a candidate. He also likely would have been a contender for any spots that open up on the morning shows.
It's hard to fault Cooper for not wanting to wait for a chance to anchor a broadcast network newscast. Ratings are on the serious decline there and all the networks are struggling to compete against cable. In fact, if Cooper's daytime television show is successful, he may have just taken away one of Couric's career options. There has been talk that she would try her hand at afternoon chat should she decide to walk away from CBS.
Cooper can also make a ton of money in daytime television and, since Telepictures is part of Time Warner, the same company that owns CNN, its keeps him in the family.
But there are a lot of risks as well.
While Cooper's early days saw him hosting an ill-fated reality show for ABC called "The Mole," since then he has worked hard to reshape his image and earned a reputation as a crusading journalist for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
Cooper, who will continue at CNN too, hasn't been afraid to try his hand at the lighter fare. He often sits in for Regis Philbin on the hit morning show "Live with Regis & Kelly" and does move seamlessly between both worlds.However, guest hosting on a friendly celebrity chat show and taking on a daytime talk show are two different things. Cooper, who like any newsman on cable these days has done his fair share of tabloid material, will have to be careful not to make that a full-time job in his afternoon gig or else he could find himself permanently on the soft side of the newsroom.
In the release announcing the new show, Cooper said he hopes to "relay important information ... and create something worthwhile and special in daytime.”
Has Cooper watched much daytime television lately? It's either softball celebrity chit-chat or depraved families and friends screaming at each other. It is hardly the home of serious journalism or deep exploration of topical issues. Yes, Winfrey can occasionally take on serious topics, but over her career she also got as down and dirty as anyone in daytime.
If Cooper wants to go the celebrity route, he'll be competing against Ellen DeGeneres, another Telepictures talent who also is looking to snag Winfrey's audience and stature. If he heads more toward the world of Dr. Phil, he could hurt his stature as one of the faces of CNN.
Then there is the question of whether Cooper will appeal to the daytime audience. The latest numbers from Nielsen show his females numbers on the decline. In the third quarter of this year, Cooper's audience of women aged 25 to 54 -- the bread and butter of daytime TV -- was off almost 60% from 2009.
Certainly the lines continue to blur between journalist and junket hopper. Even the legendary Edward R. Murrow did his fair share of puff pieces. But Cooper, a Yale graduate who seems to have always aspired to be more Murrow and Sevareid than Regis or Kelly, should be extra careful to protect the reputation he's tried to build and not let it slip away in pursuit of ratings or dollars.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Anderson Cooper. Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times