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CNN: Shakeup Adds 'Quality’

6/10/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

Cable News Network, trying to restore and sharpen its hard-news edge, last week unveiled a host of changes, like recruiting two broadcast executives to boost its key primetime shows and naming a new co-anchor for its morning newscast.

“We’re going to offer a clear alternative to all the noise that’s out there,” CNN president Jon Klein said in explaining the moves last week. “Too often, cable viewers are getting noise, not news.”

First off, CNN has hired Victor Neufeld, executive producer of the CBS Early Show and former senior executive producer for ABC news magazines such as 20/20 and PrimeTime Thursday, as the new senior executive producer for Paula Zahn Now. The program airs from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays.

CNN, up against No. 1-rated rival Fox News Channel, also raided broadcast’s ranks to recruit David Doss, former executive producer for ABC’s PrimeTime Thursday. Doss will take over senior executive producing duties for Anderson Cooper 360, which runs from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays.

VETS WITH TRACK RECORD

Neufeld and Doss join CNN in mid-June.

“In primetime, we’ve brought in two veterans who have consistently won by emphasizing quality journalism,” Klein said. “Both of those shows [Zahn and Cooper] are good shows that have the potential to become great shows.

“David and Victor have taken good shows like NBC Nightly News, 20/20 and PrimeTime and turned them into spectacular shows — and by the way, huge ratings successes — by emphasizing quality.”

In May, CNN dropped 14% in primetime ratings, to a 0.6 from a 0.7 a year ago, according to a Disney ABC Cable Network analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. Fox News Channel, by contrast, was up 8%, to a 1.3 from a 1.2. MSNBC was unchanged, with a 0.3.

Klein is also tweaking CNN’s morning newscast. He named Miles O’Brien, co-anchor of Live From …, as Soledad O’Brien’s new co-anchor for American Morning, which runs from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. In the wake of that change, Bill Hemmer will exit CNN. Hemmer joined CNN in 1995 and American Morning in 2002.

“We’re emphasizing what we do best around the clock, which is report the news and relate stories in a compelling and engaging way,” Klein said. “CNN is all about offering the latest news with the greatest intelligence. That starts with the morning, where we are emphasizing American Morning as the newsy alternative to some of the nonsense that you currently see that time of day on television.”

The 24-hour news network also unveiled a title and vague debut date, mid-summer, for the new weekday afternoon program block being anchored by Wolf Blitzer. Given the moniker The Situation Room, the block will air weekdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., replacing Inside Politics, Crossfire and Wolf Blitzer Reports.

The Situation Room is a buzzing hive of news activity that the viewer can just leave on in the late afternoon,” Klein said. “It focuses all of the newsgathering, reporting and analytical capabilities of CNN. So we’ll let the other guys argue about the news. We’ll present it.”

CAFFERTY OFF 'MORNING’

Jack Cafferty is moving from American Morning to join The Situation Room, offering commentary and insights on the day’s events.

In a separate announcement, CNN said it has enlisted Bob Costas, NBC Sports anchor and the host of Home Box Office’s Costas Now, as a substitute host for Larry King Live. Costas is expected to make about 20 appearances a year. Klein dismissed speculation that Costas is in line as King’s replacement.

“He’s not being groomed as anyone’s successor,” Klein said. “Larry doesn’t need a successor. Larry would do this job ’til the 22nd century, and Bob Costas is certainly such a familiar name that he doesn’t need any grooming. If you wanted to simply make a move, you’d hire him. It was really a matter of mutual interest.”

September