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Anderson Cooper's star rising at CNN

Hoping to boost its ratings, the cable network is in talks to expand the anchor's role, sources say.

November 02, 2005|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — CNN is considering several options that would elevate the role of anchor Anderson Cooper, seeking to give the broadcaster's brand of emotive reporting greater exposure, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Currently the host of "Anderson Cooper 360," Cooper has anchored CNN's 7 p.m. newscast since March 2003. Last month, the show saw a substantial boost in its ratings, compared with October 2004. Cooper took on an additional role in early September, shortly after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, when CNN paired him with "NewsNight's" Aaron Brown at 10 p.m. for an extended two-hour program.

But teaming the two men and their divergent styles -- Brown's folksy musings and Cooper's passionate queries -- has drawn mixed reviews.

Network officials are now looking to better showcase Cooper, considered a favorite of CNN/U.S. President Jonathan Klein. One possibility involves the two swapping their original time periods, sources said, with 56-year-old Brown taking over the 7 p.m. slot and the 38-year-old Cooper anchoring the flagship 10 p.m. newscast, presumably in the hope of attracting a more youthful audience.

CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson would not comment on the ongoing discussions, saying only that no decisions had been made.

It remains to be seen whether Brown, long CNN's lead anchor, would go along with any changes. He and Cooper are both on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.

The talks are just the latest indication of the growing profile of Cooper, a former ABC News correspondent who also hosted that network's reality show "The Mole." After Katrina hit, he decamped to the Gulf Coast for much of September, delivering often emotionally wrought reports about the destruction.

CNN officials have increasingly been touting his anchoring style as they attempt to regain their standing against Fox News, which has held the top spot in the cable news wars since 2002.

"It does seem pretty clear that Cooper has gotten a lot of attention since the Katrina coverage, and the network may be looking to capitalize on that," said Deborah Potter, a former Washington correspondent for CNN who runs NewsLab, a nonprofit journalism training and research center.

"But from the outside looking in, it appears to be deck chair rearrangement. I don't think it's the kind of fundamental shift that CNN needs to consider to be competitive again."

So far this year, Fox's average prime-time audience is up 11% to almost 1.8 million people, while CNN's has increased just 2% to 879,000, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CNN officials note that Cooper's 7 p.m. show averaged 811,000 viewers in October, a 36% hike over the same period last year. His competition -- "Fox Report With Shepard Smith" -- drew an average audience of 1.57 million viewers, down 10% from October 2004 but still larger than the combined viewership of all the other cable news programs during that hour.

It's harder to gauge the effect of Cooper's presence on "NewsNight." Its 10 p.m. hour was up just 4% over October 2004, when the presidential campaign boosted the ratings for all the cable news networks. At 11 p.m., "NewsNight" drew an average of 215,000 viewers in the key 25- to 54-year-old demographic last month, up 41% compared with regularly scheduled programming in the same period last year, which averaged 153,000 viewers.

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