CNN’s Prime-Time Shift

Sep 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

James Miller is changing more than the titles, formats and looks of the Anderson Cooper and Paula Zahn shows that relaunch on CNN this week from spiffed-up studios in New York.

For the new “Paula Zahn Now,” he is orchestrating what he called “a paradigm shift in the way resources and talent are used.”

Some contributors, such as medical expert Sanjay Gupta and legal expert Jeffrey Toobin, will be culled from the CNN stable and branded exclusive to “Paula Zahn Now” and “American Morning,” another show that is very important to CNN. Other contributors may be hired to perform similar roles.

It is a clear indication CNN is recognizing that every hour of the day is not equal. The network has realized that when it comes to the most important daypart-prime time-it takes more than sending in a new and more expensive anchor to front just another hour of same-old, same-old content.

CNN executives “have given us, I think, the tools to succeed,” said Mr. Miller, who is prone to use architectural terms when talking about the two shows for which he is senior executive producer.

“Anderson Cooper 360 ”’ has been redesigned as a “horizontal” show, “going across the surface and showing as much as possible of what’s out there,” Mr. Miller said. The first half of the show will reflect the news of the day, in Mr. Cooper’s gently wry style, and then the show will offer branded segments ranging from “Fresh Print” (Mr. Cooper’s read on fun stuff on newsstands) to “Weekender” (all about entertainment options) and “How Quickly We Forget” (about stories that have disappeared from the radar). Mr. Cooper will sign off each weeknight with “The Nth Degree,” a new name for his familiar short take on the day’s stories.

Is there anything we won’t see him doing?

“I won’t do topless unless it’s tasteful, and I’d have to have a butt double,” said Mr. Cooper, who was more serious when he declared he is having more fun on the job than he has in years. “There are so many different muscles you can exercise.”

“Paula Zahn Now,” which will follow Mr. Cooper’s show at 8 weeknights, will be a “vertical” show, “digging deep” into fewer stories and issues than CNN has dealt with during the day, Mr. Miller said. He structured “Paula Zahn” around the anchor’s interests (from politics to family issues), her style as an interviewer and as a moderator of debate segments, and her appeal to some hard-to-book guests. “There are a lot of people out there who will say, `I’ll do Paula,”’ Mr. Miller said.

The first-night lineup includes a taped interview with one of Ms. Zahn’s favorite subjects: former President George Bush. Other guests for the week include National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and late-night host Conan O’Brien.

“Paula Zahn” will be the designated platform from which major CNN projects will launch. This week the showcase series is a five-parter in which Christiane Amanpour reports out of Afghanistan on the resurgence of the Taliban.

“This is the show [Ms. Zahn] has always wanted to do, where she is really involved in making people feel smarter and more involved,” Mr. Miller said.