Weeks before Andrea Thompson reads her first line of copy off the TelePrompTer at Headline News, the former “NYPD Blue” star already has fulfilled one of her most important duties: She has brought attention to CNN.
True, much of that attention has been negative, including some high-profile griping by recently laid-off CNN employees. But the old show biz axiom applies here: From CNN’s perspective, it doesn’t matter what people are saying as long as they’re talking about CNN-and tuning in.
The network is in a scramble for ratings these days after an extended free ride at the top of the cable news genre it created. Its numbers have eroded in the face of stiffer competition, and after a strong showing by Fox News Channel in the presidential election, CNN finds itself in a dogfight with a formidable, free-spending rival. To make matters worse, another well-connected contender, MSNBC, waits in the wings.
So new CNN boss Jamie Kellner, recognizing that even a cable news network is in the entertainment business, issued the prime directive: CNN must do whatever it takes to pull in viewers. If that means breaking with TV news tradition-and in the process sacrificing journalistic integrity, as some see it-so be it.
Kellner’s strategy makes good business sense. And it’s less a reflection on CNN’s journalistic standards than on the nature of TV news as a whole. The lines have been blurring between news and entertainment, and Ms. Thompson’s arrival is the next logical step in that process.
The experiment may or may not work. But those who are angered that an actor is getting a shot at journalism without “paying her dues” seem to be overlooking the fact that she did pay whatever dues she had to pay to achieve success as an actor. She has every right to parlay that success into whatever personal dream she may have-even the comparatively humble dream of being a journalist.
Maybe what makes so many of us so uncomfortable is Ms. Thompson’s apparent desire to take what we see as a step down. If we’ve really become that cynical as a society, we should be questioning our own values, not those of Ms. Thompson or CNN.