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Jamie Kellner’s news initiation

Feb 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

From the beginning, Jamie Kellner and the executives he brought with him to Atlanta were regarded as interlopers by Ted Turner and the old guard at CNN. Mr. Kellner may have started two networks (Fox, with Barry Diller and Rupert Murdoch, and The WB), but neither network had a news department when he was involved, they noted, and Mr. Kellner’s sensibility was far from their ethos of all news all the time. His was, instead, the consummate Hollywood-insider sensibility of all TV all the time.
That was also the sensibility of the men from Hollywood with which he surrounded himself in Atlanta. Case in point: Sept. 11, 2001.
Mr. Kellner and Garth Ancier, the preppy one-time wunderkind programming executive who for many years has been Mr. Kellner’s close lieutenant, slipped into the back of the CNN newsroom in Atlanta to watch the day’s terrible history unfold.
Mr. Kellner had gone with his instinct about new-hire Aaron Brown, agreeing to have Mr. Brown anchor CNN’s coverage of the Twin Towers as they first began to burn, though he might just as easily gone with one of the Turner-era old hands.
The two men watched the chaotic bustle of the newsroom in full history-making-news mode and whispered among themselves: Just what is it that this urgent scene most reminded them of?
It was, of course, a TV show. “M*A*S*H,” Mr. Kellner recalled at the time, though he didn’t remember if it were he or Mr. Ancier who first made the comparison.
The newsmen and women of CNN, racing to tell the story of 9/11 as it was happening, reminded the two Hollywood executives of Hawkeye and Trapper John, the surgeons on “M*A*S*H”-a slightly disreputable crew to be sure, lazing around in their bathrobes, slurping on homemade gin, until the moment they heard the thwack of helicopters bringing the wounded in.
“Then they went to work,” Mr. Kellner said admiringly.#