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Reviewing 'Anderson': Can Anderson Cooper elevate daytime?

September 12, 2011 |  7:50 pm

 Anderson cooper daytime show premieres

Until recently, I was unaware that anyone besides Anderson Cooper’s friends, family and, perhaps, a potential romantic partner was clamoring to see his “daytime side.” But apparently I was out of the loop, because here’s the intrepid CNN reporter getting all soft-feature personal with his new talk show “Anderson,” which premiered Monday on KTTV Channel 11 at 4.

As everyone knows, “daytime” is synonymous with a certain downscaling of expectations -- “Jerry Springer” and soap operas, all those crazy judges and Oprah wanna-bes. Cooper, who has done everything but sing a duet of “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” with Katie Couric to plug his new show, swears that he just wants a program in which he can explore his other interests.

Which, despite the man’s famous Vanderbilt/Dalton School/Yale/CNN pedigree, appears to be eerily similar to every other daytime talk show host’s.  He’s fascinated with “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and Harry Potter, friends with Kathy Griffin, admires the films of Sarah Jessica Parker and is not afraid to bare his naked torso while getting a spray-on tan with Snooki.

Still, he is Anderson Cooper, and that has to count for something. Like getting an exclusive interview with Amy Winehouse’s family for his premiere. Speaking in their first major television interview since the singer’s death, Winehouse’s family -- her father, mother, gran, stepmother and boyfriend -- were frank, charming and heartbreaking.

Cooper, an inarguably fine interviewer, led them through their memories of Winehouse and their grief at losing her at a time when, according to her father, she seemed to be finally sober and on the right track. Although there was something uncomfortably sensational about leading with the parents of a dead rock star, their story not only humanized a young woman who became  the latest poster child for the perils of early success, it spoke to countless other parents in similar nightmarish situations.

If only Cooper had been willing to stop at that -- an interview that would not have been out of place on any news show at any time. But no, surrendering to the siren call of Daytime, Cooper chose to open the show while riding a bicycle. And while one applauds all efforts to go green, watching Anderson Cooper address a camera mounted, apparently, on his handlebars more than slightly undercut the sincerity of his stated desire to talk to Winehouse’s parents to see “what went wrong when everything seemed to be going so right.” (And it was nerve-racking as he never seemed to take his eyes off the camera and he wasn’t wearing a helmet.)

He also seems to believe that his new venue requires a hyperbolic level of intimacy and sentiment. After introducing himself in a way that can only be characterized as coy -- “I’m not the most polished guy … but I am genuinely interested in people”  -- he deepened the frown line between his eyebrows and Got Serious.

“Everyone remembers where they were this summer when they heard the news that Amy Winehouse had died,” he said, as if she were  an assassinated president, before introducing a series of film clips similarly cheapened by overwrought narration. Anyone who can somberly say, “The tears she cried were not shed in vain” needs to revisit the basic tenet of a posthumous tribute -- i.e., it shouldn’t make you laugh.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a “hard news” guy having a “soft news” show, and Cooper has certainly dabbled before, filling in for Regis Philbin and hosting “The Mole.” But if you’re going to offer audiences a double dose of your fabulous self (he is keeping his anchor slot on CNN), you should probably have a better reason than “I’ve always wanted to and now I can.”

Instead of dumbing down his brand and trying to appear pop-culturally righteous by pandering to lowbrow topics and high-volume heartstrings,  Cooper should think about how he can expand or even elevate the genre of the daytime talk show.

After all, what’s the point of being Anderson Cooper if you’re just going to waste it on hanging out with Snooki?

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-- Mary McNamara

Photo: Anderson Cooper interviews the family of recently deceased pop singer Amy Winehouse in the debut episode of his daytime show "Anderson." Credit: Ali Goldstein / Warner Bros.

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