I have been an on again, off again viewer of Anderson Cooper 360 for the past several years. Lately it has been mostly off.
During commercials I flip over to CNN to catch Tom Foreman’s Raw Politics if I can. If 360 manages to keep my attention beyond that, I stick around. These days that rarely, if ever, happens.
The main reason is that 360 does not live up to its mission. According to its website:
ANDERSON COOPER 360° is a provocative alternative to the typical network evening newscast, going beyond the headlines to tell stories in-depth and from many points of view so you can make up your own mind about the news that affects you.”
It occasionally accomplishes some of that, but for me it totally fails in the “provocative alternative” category.
Is it the writing? The guests? The choice of topic? How much time 360 spends on that choice? I would say all of the above.
Anyone who watches television news of any sort knows that pop culture and infotainment dominates it almost without exception.
Last week’s coverage of the O. J. Simpson arrest for a bungled armed robbery attempt in Las Vegas to reclaim allegedly stolen memorabilia is a prime example.
Cooper returned to CNN’s New York studio Monday from Iraq where he had anchored most of the previous week. What 360 viewers got, from what I understand, was almost an entire program on the Simpson story in the first hour, with it repeated in the second. I did not watch. The O.J. Simpson debacle does not fall under “news that affects you.” Even I, however, did not suspect 360 would devote the entire show to Simpson.
360 received an avalanche of complaints by loyal 360 viewers. Not put off, Cooper devoted the entire program to Simpson again on Tuesday. All of this under the influence ostensibly because of some Bagdad bug he picked up:
I’m doped up on Theraflu…which is helping me get through it all, quite frankly.”
More viewer complaints followed.
Wednesday there was further Simpson coverage, but this time with a wink and a nod from Cooper, as if to say I am tired of this too, but I have to do it. This is something Cooper does often when “forced” to do pop culture news features.
On the 360 blog, Cooper apologized for the Simpson coverage in response to the negative feedback the show was receiving, adding he was glad “everyone didn’t take out on me.”
If there is one thing Cooper understands, it is his public. His followers never hold him personally accountable for his dismal show. I am afraid, however, that relying on the good nature of his fan base much longer for what viewership 360 has, may be the show’s undoing.
Perhaps that explains why Cooper continually fans the flames of his personal celebrity, attending high profile events and appearing on silly television shows such as co-hosting Regis and Kelly (yes, I know, I have complained about that before).
Thursday and Friday, Cooper was conspicuous by his absence. A media insider told me he is pouting over the Simpson criticism. Maybe Cooper is having his tonsils out like Lou Dobbs.
Whatever the case, Soledad O’Brien did a great job filling in for Cooper as 360 anchor. Not surprising. O’Brien is a class act. The program was good, and I watched almost all of it.
So what really drives a program? Its content or its anchor? It is a complicated mix of both.
Where Anderson Cooper 360 is heading is unclear. There have been conflicting reports on that the past two weeks. One hour? Two hours? Taped live first hour repeated in the second hour? Give Cooper’s second hour to someone else, like Lou Dobbs or the incoming Campbell Brown? One thing is obvious. 360 is broke, and someone needs to fix it.
There is no getting away from it. Celebrities are news in America. However, the fix may be easier than it initially appears.
Get Cooper another sidekick, and do a Raw Politics type segment on celebrity news. Substitute it for “Shot of the Day,” and call the new segment “Star Shots” (no pun intended).
If those at CNN are not quite sure what do so with Anderson Cooper, is the man himself any clearer?
In my opinion, Anderson Cooper needs to decide what he is – a serious reporter or a celebrated person who just happens to have an anchor job on a cable news network. Then Cooper can determine and demand the type of program that works for him, and the suits.