CNN Tries Again for Morning Magic

The morning hours at CNN have been a somewhat constant state of churn over the last decade, with more than a dozen different hosts of the now-defunct American Morning from 2001-11 and its replacement Starting Point lasted just 18 months.

On June 17 the network, now under the helm of Jeff Zucker, is making another attempt with New Day hosted by Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira. Zucker of course first rose to prominence as the 26-year-old executive producer of NBC’s Today show in its Matt Lauer-Katie Couric heyday in the 1990s. The executive, who has denied all interview requests since becoming president of CNN Worldwide last January, broke his silence to talk about New Day at a press conference in New York last month.

“If you think about an all-talk radio station, I think it’s the drive-time morning show that sets the tone and the agenda for the day. I think a cable network like this is the same idea,” he said. “It’s really important that we have a really strong and good morning show.”

To oversee that task he’s hired Jim Murphy, a morning TV veteran who was the senior executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America from 2006-11. Murphy said New Day will be a “super newsy” program covering a wide range of topics and be more aggressive than past CNN morning shows (he’s hired 25 new employees including experienced producers and bookers).

“We’ll also be, unlike a lot of CNN in the past, looser, a bit more fun, and hopefully a bit more interesting,” he said.

The broad approach to news has opened up new opportunities for ad sales, resulting in new business from more categories, according to a CNN spokesperson. New Day has signed up three launch advertisers – Allstate, AT&T and Coke – with additional confirmed and close-to-signed sponsors.

Morning TV’s Next Generation

Both Zucker and Murphy pitch Cuomo (42), Bolduan (29) and Pereira (42) as a generationally different team, with Murphy going so far as to nickname the show “TNG” for “The Next Generation.” They hope that, along with the hosts’ different backgrounds – Cuomo grew up on the East Coast, Bolduan in the Midwest and Pereira comes to CNN from KTLA in Los Angeles – will distinguish New Day from the other newsy morning show, CBS This Morning, which Zucker praised.

“It’s a slightly different tone that you’ll get from a new generation,” Zucker said. “I think that’s the difference between us and the CBS show.”

“You’re not going to watch it and mistake it for MTV, it’s still going to be a news program, but it’s going to have a fresher take on things, a fresher look and a fresher way of doing it,” executive producer Matt Frucci added in an interview earlier this month.

Playing into that fresh take, CNN designed a completely new set for New Day that is “designed to look like an industrial loft, very New York-themed, where the kids are living in Brooklyn these days and South Bronx,” Murphy said in an interview earlier this month. The anchors will spend most of the show at an oval-shaped central desk, though there’s also a one-on-one area, a small couch for lighter features and a workspace on the set for several producers. The iconic CNN Magic Wall will be there as well as floating monitors and a staircase that leads to nowhere – but no kitchen demo set.

An Earlier Start

In another change from previous incarnations, New Day will air from 6-9 a.m., putting it head to head with its cable competition Fox & Friends and Morning Joe. “Starting the show at 7 a.m. is playing into the traditional broadcast network schedule and that’s not what we are or what we aspire to be,” Zucker said.

Though morning show viewers are often extremely loyal to the group of anchors they wake up with, Murphy said he does believe viewers are willing to sample something new if they think it might be a better fit, especially at a time of change in the balance of power between Today and GMA. “We are going to make a bigger and hopefully better effort to get into the market at a time when it could be advantageous,” Murphy said.

Zucker noted he’s realistic about early ratings and doesn’t expect them to change after the first day, week or month and that “we’re in this for the long haul.”

“First we just want to get on our feet and do as well as possible,” Murphy said. “The numbers are glacially paced in the morning, we all know that. But we do really, really hope to be the No. 2 show, and then we really, really hope to be the No. 1 show.”

And though producers are most excited to be done producing two shows each morning (the same staff had been putting on Starting Point and prepping New Day) it’s also exciting for them to design a fresh take on an old format.

Good Morning America is a format that’s been around for years or decades even,” said Frucci, who was previously EP of weekend GMA. “You knew what worked and you knew what fit into certain slots on that show. So it’s very exciting to think about a new way to approach mornings, a new way to approach doing the news.”