Paula Zahn and “Paula Zahn Now” will sign off at CNN Thursday, Aug. 2.
It will be the end of six years at the news channel. She started at CNN only three days after leaving Fox News, kick-started by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Her first day on the air was Sept. 11, 2001, co-anchoring CNN's coverage of the attacks.
After some 30 years of vacations cut short by big breaking news and no chance to take a deep breath between assignments, Ms. Zahn, whose CNN contract was to expire at the end of the year, is going to have a few months to relax. Whatever that means. Beyond having “the luxury” of time to read a complete book, rather than chapters in rushed preparation for a show, Ms. Zahn told TelevisionWeek she has no idea how she will spend the next few months.
She said she and CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein had talked over options for several months but ultimately she didn’t find the options “interesting, because I’ve done all of them.”
“I wanted to move on and he wanted to move on,” Ms. Zahn said.
The internal announcement of Ms. Zahn’s exit Tuesday was the second of at least three shoes to drop after several months of speculation. CNN announced Monday that Campbell Brown had been recruited from NBC News to anchor a topical show, but Mr. Klein coyly refused to say just where Ms. Brown’s hour-long prime-time show will go when it debuts in November, a couple of months before she has her first baby.
Mr. Klein seemed to say in his e-mail to staffers Tuesday that it will be Ms. Zahn’s 8 o’clock time slot, up against the politically opposite Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann.
“Throughout the coming weeks, we will be utilizing substitute hosts at 8 p.m. leading up to the November launch of a new program anchored by Campbell Brown,” Mr. Klein said in the e-mail. “Additional details will be forthcoming,”
Those details will eventually have to address whether “Lou Dobbs Tonight” will move from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., and “The Situation Room” loses its bookends format and goes three back-to-back hours starting at 4 p.m.
Ms. Zahn, whose previous stops included ABC News, CBS News and Fox News, testifies to the challenge at 8 p.m., which she calls the toughest time slot in all of cable news.
“What we have discovered as we experimented with four or five different formats over the last four years with four [different] news presidents is that the audience seems to be drawn to opinion, and that’s not what I did,” she said. “We tried to counterprogram with a thoughtful hard news program that was objective.”
She said she takes pride that she produced a ratings increase of 23 percent over this time a year ago.
Ms. Zahn said she already has some opportunities for when she’s available after the first of the year.