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CNN Anchor Brown to Exit

Rising star Anderson Cooper will fill the flagship prime-time slot. Wolf Blitzer also gets a bigger role.

November 03, 2005|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — CNN "NewsNight" anchor Aaron Brown is leaving the network after executives decided to give his flagship 10 p.m. broadcast to Anderson Cooper and create an expanded role for Wolf Blitzer in prime time, CNN announced Wednesday.

With the programming changes, Brown -- who had anchored the 10 p.m. EST hour for the last four years -- was in effect elbowed out.

"There weren't that many options left that made sense for someone of Aaron's stature," CNN/U.S. President Jonathan Klein said in an interview, calling Brown's departure "a mutual decision."

The 56-year-old anchor was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. His agent had no comment.

Since early September, Brown and Cooper had been paired on an extended two-hour "NewsNight" that Klein said gave the network "fire and ice." But it's been clear that Cooper's star was ascending. The 38-year-old's emotionally involved, ardent reporting style -- in contrast with Brown's lower-key delivery -- has drawn the attention of both critics and the CNN president, who has repeatedly touted Cooper's approach as the kind of storytelling he wants on the network.

In an e-mail to CNN staff, Klein noted Brown's "enormous contributions to CNN" and said the anchor "is very much looking forward to some well-deserved time off with his family."

Brown, who worked at ABC before being selected by CNN, garnered a following for his folksy contemplations and unruffled demeanor, especially during his coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- his first day on the air at the network. This year, the ratings of "NewsNight" were 13% higher than last year with an average audience of 839,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

However, some viewed him as "almost too pensive for television news," said former CNN correspondent Charles Bierbauer, now dean of the University of South Carolina's College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.

"CNN is and has been for a long time looking for someone who could deliver the holy grail in the evening hours," Bierbauer added. "Cooper is younger, more energetic. He cuts a different figure than Aaron Brown."

Klein said Wednesday that "Anderson acts like a regular human being, not like an anchorman. He's comfortable in his own skin.... He lets his passion for the stories show. It's refreshing and it's authentic."

"You don't want an anchor who's just so over it," he added. "Too many on TV, like overpriced NBA stars, are just phoning it in. Anderson gets in the game. It's infectious."

Cooper -- the son of socialite and writer Gloria Vanderbilt -- was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Cooper's expanded platform underscores the climate of change at CNN, which has undergone significant upheaval in its programming under Klein. Since taking the helm of the second-place cable news network last November, he has sought to hit on a formula to challenge the preeminence of Fox News, the top-rated cable news network since 2002.

To that end, Klein canceled inside-the-Beltway mainstays such as "Crossfire" and "Inside Politics," replacing them with a three-hour afternoon news block called "The Situation Room," anchored by Blitzer. He shuffled around the morning line-up, replacing "American Morning" anchor Bill Hemmer -- who subsequently went to Fox News -- with Miles O'Brien.

On Wednesday, Klein announced a revamping of CNN's prime time, effective Monday. Cooper's 7 p.m. EST program "Anderson Cooper 360" will replace "NewsNight" at 10 p.m. and expand to two hours. (All shows air three hours earlier on the West Coast.)

Blitzer will take over Cooper's 7 p.m. slot with an evening edition of "The Situation Room." That program, which had aired from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., will run from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the early afternoon show "Live From" with Kyra Phillips extending an extra hour until 4 p.m.

Klein said he decided to make the changes because he believes both Cooper and Blitzer's programs show "clear momentum," especially after Hurricane Katrina hit.

Blitzer's show has drawn an average audience of 937,000 this year, according to Nielsen Media Research. Cooper's viewership has averaged 706,000 at 7 p.m. -- a 39% hike over last year. But both programs trail the competition on Fox.

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