Saturday, October 02, 2010

Anderson Cooper Does Daytime, CNN Gets A New Head, & Rick Sanchez Fired!

Hi everyone. Wowsa! That's right, a simple "wow" will not suffice when it comes to the past week and a half at CNN. Some of you have been asking my thoughts, so as promised, the following are my newsy musings about the whole shebang. This post is no doubt going to be long and meandering. Consider yourself warned and please bear with me. To save time and space, I'm going to assume that everyone reading this knows the basics of everything I'll be discussing. Also, to be clear, I have no special knowledge when it comes to the network decisions that we've recently witnessed. Translation? Get ready for some mad speculation, yo.

I guess the best place to start is this past Friday's firing of Rick Sanchez. If you told me he would one day being going out with a bang, well, I wouldn't have been that shocked. But an anti-Semitic meltdown? Yeah, can't say I saw that one coming. I mean, WTF? There are a lot of unanswered questions here. One has to wonder if there was already a target on his back, and network brass were just waiting for an excuse. They fired him fast.

I can't really get my head around the whole "Jon Stewart is a bigot" thing. I mean, really? You're really going to say that about one of today's most beloved comics? A man whose comedy is predominantly directed at the country's elite in the defense of the working man? Really? Best I can tell, what we have here is a situation where a guy wasn't getting the promotions he thought he deserved, so he projected all his anger onto what he felt was a safer/easier target than his bosses/himself (though he did still mention CNN and I'm sure that hurt him more than anything he said about Stewart).

The remarks about Jews were more than troubling, obviously, but I don't know if Rick Sanchez is actually an anti-Semite. It's probably safe to assume, however, that he is massively arrogant. I'd guess that he wanted primetime, and being passed over (not to mention knowing that Anderson Cooper recently negotiated a really sweet deal), probably didn't sit very well. Instead of looking inward for the reason, he blamed his problems and setbacks on others. I'm sure he has on occasion faced real discrimination, but people don't think he's a joke because he's Cuban.

If Jon Stewart is a bigot, well, I guess so am I. Longtime viewers of AC360 know that Sanchez actually used to be a correspondent for the show. The majority of his reports were, to put it mildly, ridiculous. Yes, those of us who were watching at the time mocked him mercilessly. You might even be able to find some of this in my blog archives. Our theory was that CNN was secretly (or maybe not so secretly) trying to kill him, because they did everything from dropping his ass in the middle of the ocean to leaving him alone in the woods. And every assignment was tackled with the classic Sanchez boorishness.

The man has had his moments. He's done a good interview here and there, and every once in a while covered an important subject that others didn't. But for the most part, he's always been viewed as a semi-joke--someone whose journalism style was pulling the network in the wrong direction. He only has himself to blame for that. I hope he lands on his feet somewhere; there's no need to be overly mean. But I don't cry any tears over this departure. Also? Though I could obviously be totally wrong, I think the identity of the on-air leaker just got clearer.

Transitioning now to the first big shoe that dropped: Jon Klein out! Hallelujah! It's about time. Okay, I should probably note that over the years I basically took everything that ever pissed me off about CNN and stuck it on Klein's head in a big Blame Bucket. It was just easier that way, people! That being said, I know I'm not in any way the only person who thinks this was long overdue. The network that Klein always described in the press sounded pretty good. The network that actually existed? Well, it was quite a different animal. As former CNNer Jamie McIntyre blogged:
The fact is Jon Klein has overseen the slow, and sometimes not-so-subtle tabloidization of CNN, as he has systematically shed programming that aspired to provide context and perspective, in favor of ratings-seeking formulas aimed more at fanning the flames of outrage and emotion.
It's actually a little strange for me to see Klein finally go. I began closely following CNN about the time he took over, so I'm pretty familiar with his entire reign. Prior to that time, I was all about CNN Headline News (Rudi Bakhtiar, I miss you!), which was basically just headlines (duh) and packages aired round-the-clock. But then suddenly there was entertainment crap, and a scary lady named Nancy Grace (and eventually a scary man named Glenn Beck), so I hightailed it away from that network and never looked back.

Klein wasn't all bad. He did get rid of Crossfire and the other political shows. Still. CNN has gone from a network that I used to watch quite often, to one that, except for 360, I all but avoid. I've witnessed terrible decision after terrible decision, which have added up to me being almost completely alienated from their programming. Fire the entire science and technology team? Sure, why not. Wall-to-wall Michael Jackson coverage? Hey, our regular viewers probably don't want real news anyway. Hiring Erick Erickson? Really, who hasn't called a Supreme Court Justice a "goat-f*cking child molester"? And on and on and on.

To recap, I'm a regular viewer they actually had (and a member of that sweet demo, I might add), and CNN has done nothing but push me away. I love the work of Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, Gary Tuchman, and Fareed Zakaria. Other than that there's not much motivation for me to watch at all. I'm not saying I dislike everyone else, but I don't like them to the point that I want to schedule them into my day. I've tried to watch John King's show on several occasions and every single time I turn it on I'm met with some political panel that makes me want to poke my eyes out. No thanks.

Now there's this new guy Ken Jautz. I am not hopeful, people. First of all, he comes from HLN, which as previously noted, I now hate. Jautz is on record that he won't be blending brands, but he does talk about making CNN primetime "...more compelling and engaging, sometimes more fun..." It's true that primetime does need this. I'm just afraid his way of getting there is going to be much different than anything I would want to watch. The new shows, quite frankly, sound terrible (a disgraced politician? Get him on the air!). Yet apparently they're now top priority at CNN. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe these shows really will entertain and enlighten. Yeah, I'm not holding my breath.

Now, on to the news that our Anderson Cooper is branching out to daytime. Wow. Honestly, when I read the initial report before it was confirmed, I thought it might be a plant. I wasn't sure by who or what the motivation would be, but it just did not seem believable. It's not that I didn't see change coming--it's practically been palpable. There's a reason I did a big post for my four year blog anniversary--I'm not entirely confident there will be a fifth.

We all know the ratings continue to tank, and Anderson's unhappiness has been clearly evident for the good part of a year--probably more. Actually, I didn't know exactly what was wrong with him (felt wrong speculating). I believe I characterized it in the past as him being disengaged with the show. This actually began to improve this year, but I'll get to that later.

I guess I always envisioned Anderson maybe taking over for Regis coupled with a higher profile at 60 Minutes. Hey, maybe he did too. You can't exactly knock people out of their chairs though, and timing is everything. With CNN in a downward spiral, perhaps he felt he couldn't wait. After all, even the Silver Fox isn't immune to "getting shot" like Klein did. The new guy might not even like him. I also thought maybe he'd jump to Oprah's new network. Executive producing and hosting his own daytime talk show while still doing 360? No, that is something I definitely did not consider.

My interpretation of the situation is that Anderson only re-upped with CNN because his deal was sweetened with this new show. Despite having crappy ratings, they're less crappy than most of the rest of CNN. Plus he's one of the main faces of the network and he brings them tons of buzz. Him bolting would be devastating. I imagine he had a lot of leverage come negotiation time and he used it. Smart cookie. What I don't understand is how in the world this is going to work.

Anderson is the disaster guy. He's an adequate enough anchor, but his career has been made through his field reporting. This is a guy who I watched literally leave the anchor desk during a live broadcast in order to catch a flight to Haiti. In 2006 he spent a month covering the Israel/Hezbollah war and I'm not sure he came back to the states at all during that time. How can he do a syndicated show and continue to do long-term field reporting on the spur of the moment? Yes, you can have taped shows in the can, but a month's worth? They'll get stale.

According to the press release, when breaking news happens, he's going to take the audience with him (one presumes not literally). Would a daytime audience really want to watch more than a day or two of consecutive coverage from a devastated region? Plus he's going to executive produce this new show. That's a lot of work. That's more than just showing up. This new show is now his baby and kids need attention.

Supposedly, 360 is going to be given higher priority, and Anderson has stated that he "remain[s] as committed as ever to [his] program on CNN, and will be with CNN for years to come." Frankly, I don't buy this. I don't say this to be mean or make any kind of judgment on Anderson's character, I'm just being practical. First of all, I don't see how the new show isn't going to affect 360. There will probably be lots of decisions that will have to be made to accommodate Anderson's schedule. Also, though it wasn't hugely apparent, I did notice a difference in quality when he was writing his book.

As for being committed to CNN, if he was in fact going to bolt before this new deal, doesn't that kind of make 360 the vegetables you have to eat in order to get dessert? Why would he prioritize a show he almost dumped (and again, this is all just speculation)? I don't know the language of his contract, but if the new show becomes a success, I would not be surprised if he left CNN. And you know, that's all perfectly fine. It's what happens in the business. I just really hope he doesn't have a plan to continue to reiterate his commitment and then one day out of the blue, bam! He's gone. That would not be cool, Silver Fox. You have a staff.

Then there's the subject of the new show. It sounds...interesting. I'm probably biased because despite being of the female variety, I am not a fan of daytime TV (though I do enjoy Anderson on Regis and Kelly). I like most of what I view to have a harder edge. That doesn't mean I will shun the new show. I'll definitely give it a chance, though if I may, hidden camera experiments?! Really? Yeah, there's a possibility this may not end well.

It's not that I think Anderson will do poorly. He is extremely charming and usually has crazy good comic timing. I never pictured him going it alone though. The dynamic he has with Kelly Ripa is mostly what makes his appearances on that show so fun to watch. She fawns over him, he gets adorably embarrassed or amusingly snarky, rinse, repeat. When I first started watching, I wasn't a big fan of Kelly (perky people scary me). Over the years I have realized just how hard her job is and just how good she is at it. Anderson can go toe-to-toe with her, but will he be as compelling alone? I watch that show for those two--I find the guest segments boring.

Also, there's the issue of relatability. Being a daytime host is much different than being an objective journalist. The audience needs to have a connection with the person they're letting into their living rooms every day. Anderson is a very private individual. Oprah may not be a total open book, but she's let America into so many aspects of her life--probably most notably her weight struggles. Ellen talks about her wife and has talked about her struggles coming out. Rosie always talked about her kids, as Kelly does now. Donahue was before my time, so maybe he was different, but everyone I can think of consistently gave/gives a piece of themselves to relate to their audience.

Yes, Anderson opened a vein to write about his losses, and everyone can relate to loss. I'm not sure that's the same though. Most of the other stuff we know, well, being a Vanderbilt isn't all that relatable. On some level I think Anderson has always been conscious of this potential problem. He sometimes goes through painstaking efforts to maintain his reputation as an 'everyman.' His life is boring. He doesn't go to dinner parties. He doesn't know what to say to celebrities. He watches cheesy TV. All these things he reiterates. I'm not saying it's a farce. I truly believe he's a down to earth guy. It's just that sometimes he tries really really hard to make sure we know that.

On a similar note, there's the elephant in the room, which yes, I do believe will be an elephant with this new show. I've always respected Anderson enough as a person to only blog what he himself has put into the public sphere regarding his private life. The other stuff is quite frankly nobody else's business and honestly not something I really care about. That being said, if he's going to do shows about gay issues (and I'm assuming he will), I do not see how he remains silent about his own orientation in this new chatty medium.

This goes back to the whole connecting with your audience thing. People don't want detachment in daytime. I can't see how him not acknowledging would be anything but awkward. I always assumed he'd never go public, and to be clear, I am not saying he's under any obligation to do so, but he's been edging out further and further the past couple of years. Maybe there'll be a couple of carefully placed pronouns in the near future. I guess we'll see.

Finally, a few words about where 360 is now. I noted before that Anderson's disengagement with the show had been evident. Last year was very bad for the 360 kids. Very bad. As a regular viewer, it was painful to watch them basically destroy the show. It was like watching a car accident in slow motion, and there was nothing I could do to stop it from happening (though I did try in my own powerless way). How they lost their way so badly, I'll never know, especially since it was something some of us saw coming as far back as the election.

What I do know, is that over half the hardcore regular viewers I have contact with jumped ship and never looked back. Not exactly a good thing given that CNN's loyal base of viewers is much smaller than Fox News or MSNBC. I've always thought that CNN's main goal should be expanding their base; not necessarily going after the viewers of the moment. In other words, wall-to-wall Michael Jackson? Stupid move. Sure, they got the ratings then, but how many regular viewers did they lose forever?

Anyway. I say all this because from my point of view, this year 360 has been improving, particularly the past few months. They've slowly morphed into more of a news magazine again, which I think works better for them, as it allows them to put more of a personal stamp on the show. Do I sometimes rather they tackle things relevant to a wider audience (i.e. unemployment, specific legislation)? Occasionally. But the key here is that most of what they cover now is not unimportant. We're not getting the trials and tribulations of Britney Spears (yes, they did in fact give us that at one time).

Also, for the most part, Anderson has been on fire lately. Last year he barely did any real interviews (astounding to me); this year he's been knocking them out of the park on almost a weekly basis. On top of that, the fact-checking has improved. All these things together are getting the show a lot of positive buzz lately, which can only be a good thing. Because I gotta say, there have been periods in the past where my Google hits to this blog were only related to "the shot". Pretty sad. Now people are searching for specific interviews and reporting. Obviously there's word-of-mouth (word-of-interwebs?) at play.

If they lock in and sharpen up this new format, there's a possibility they could increase their base audience. One of 360's main problems has always been their inconsistency. They keep slightly changing the show, making it almost impossible for new viewers to become attached. Taking on a news show is a pretty big deal and usually a long process for an individual. For me personally, it was the better part of a year before I finally decided that, yes, I liked this Anderson fellow enough to make his show a part of my daily viewing habit. I hope they continue in the direction they've been (mostly) going lately.

To wrap up, I have no idea what's going to happen in the future, but the next year is definitely going to be interesting. Though it's very possible Anderson's new endeavor will be something I won't want to watch, I still wish him all the best and hope he succeeds. It's his life. What I or anyone else may or may not wish for his career is irrelevant. It doesn't change the fact that he seems to be a good guy. So, you get on with your bad self, Silver Fox. I'm rooting for you.

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Anonymous ZEGrockle said...

As always, I enjoyed your insightful analysis, Eliza. I'm very interested to see what's coming, too.

I'm not all that familiar with Rick Sanchez, other than seeing the clip of him getting tazered a million times, but I did listen to the part of the interview where he talked about Jon Stewart, and it just seemed bizarre, as did how quickly he was fired. I think you're right that they were looking for an excuse to do it, not that I feel particularly sorry for him.

I'm glad you addressed the elephant. That was one of the first things I thought of when I heard the news about Anderson's daytime show, because the reason he's danced around stating for not coming out (being seen as completely objective) doesn't seem to apply there. Personally, I don't care if he's out or not, but I do wonder how he'll handle it.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sanchez's comments about how Stewart's claims to just be a comedian are false and how he can break news careers seemed to me to indicate Sanchez blamed Stewart's targeting of him as part of the reason he's not been achieving his career objectives (like a permanent prime time anchor spot).

I can see Sanchez feeling aggrieved that TDS is scouring for some flub on CNN on a night to balance out footage from the other networks, especially when the footage from FOX presents bare faced lies that could be the whole story and is more relevant than Sanchez flubbing something or having some moments of ignorance. Sort of ironic a CNN anchor complaining about being the victim of false equivalency, no? I can also imagine he is angry that Larry King and Anderson don't get mocked for flubs and attributes it to racism, but I think the thing there is that Larry and Anderson are self aware and if they say something goofy they are in on the joke normally while Rick is clueless. Also being puffed up and over the top is common practice for Rick making him a joke magnet, while Larry and AC are low key and reasonable. I don't see TDS mocking POC like Soledad, Sanjay or Don Lemon all the time like Rick, which I would say is because they don't invite it the same way by being so foolish.

I'd say it was the offensive zionist conspiracy stuff and attacks on his own bosses that really motivated the firing. I also think you are right that CNN may have already wanted to get rid of him since it happened so fast. Maybe part of what was holding them back before was the sense that he would try to make it a race thing and sue, who knows? Of course, even if they didn't already want to get rid of him there's the fact that timing made a quick firing really strategic. This blew up right at the end of the week so they could take charge and defuse the situation by firing him immediately before TDS and Colbert's show on Monday and before the new week's news cycle kicked into gear and took hold of the story.

I agree with you about it being quite likely Rick was the disgruntled leak.

I hope AC comes up with a good format for his daytime show and finds suitable producers. He has a lot of potential to be a good daytime host, I think, but the 360 Fridays experiment has hopefully taught him to avoid the many flaws in 360 Fridays. Finding a female co-host he riffs well with and is at ease with could be a really good idea.

I regard to getting personal about the elephant, relationships, etc with a daytime audience maybe it depends a bit on the show and the host. I don't think male hosts (Phil Donohue, Maury, Montell, etc) are really expected to do that the way women ones are. Maybe the women watching don't identify with male hosts the same way so they don't care about hearing about their personal life as much? I think people expect them not to be a completely blank slate to the public, but male hosts with townhall type formats seem to manage success without sharing very much personally. Perhaps he'll make a basic statement but keep relationship type stuff to himself?

Have you seen this new New York magazine article about the behind the scenes goings on at the three networks over the past years? Really interesting:

5:31 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

@ZEGrockle: Thanks. Not familiar with Sanchez? You might consider yourself lucky. (Almost feel bad piling on, but I can't help myself.)

As for the elephant, I just think he's going to paint himself into an awkward situation. Daytime hosts are more like participants. If he tries to be the detached guy with the opinionless sleeves, I don't think viewers will feel connected to him.

@anonymous: Yes, you're right. TDS mocks the stupid, not race/ethnicity. Rick was projecting his own failures onto Jon.

Good point about them firing him on a Friday to maybe take care of the story with a one-two punch. Waiting until today would have been more bad press.

Re: suitable producers--he's going to be executive producing, so most of the show will be on him.

I haven't seen anything that indicates they're even considering a female co-host. I think he's building his own brand. Whether that will work without someone to play off, I don't know.

Interesting point about the male relatability, and you might have something with Donohue, but I think Montell and Maury are different type of shows. Unless AC is going to do paternity tests, which, please God no.

Also, to be clear, I'm not necessarily saying he should share his romantic relationships. I'm not even sure America is completely ready for that. It would be different if he was married and expecting kids like Neil Patrick Harris. I don't know his exact situation (and this is not an invitation to speculate for anyone else reading), but it's probably a bad idea (gay or straight) to talk about your love life if you're not settled down.

I do think he might need to become more open in general in order to connect, but I wasn't specifically talking about that aspect of his life. I just meant that if he's going to cover issues that impact his life or are somehow related to him, it's going to be awkward if he plays detached.

Yes, I've seen that piece. Disturbing, no? If you didn't think the news biz was run by crazy narcissistic babies already...

1:17 AM  

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