Extending his efforts to return CNN to its hard-news roots and close the ratings gap on the Fox News Channel, CNN president Jon Klein yesterday announced another round of sweeping changes at the pioneering network that's celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Miles O'Brien, co-anchor of CNN's Live From, will join Soledad O'Brien as co-anchor of the cable channel's American Morning show. He replaces Bill Hemmer, who is leaving CNN after 10 years, "to pursue other opportunities," according to Klein.
Klein, who has been trying to shake the network out of a major ratings slide since taking over in December, also announced a midsummer launch for the network's new showcase series, The Situation Room, a weekday show airing 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. that replaces Inside Politics, Crossfire and Wolf Blitzer Reports.
Judy Woodruff, longtime anchor of Inside Politics, left the network Friday. Blitzer will be sole anchorman of The Situation Room, which will focus on breaking news rather than the chatter and artificial confrontation of Crossfire.
"All of the changes are based on the principle that we ought to be doing what CNN has always done best: deliver the latest and most important news and information with the greatest intelligence," Klein said in a telephone interview yesterday.
"The move to Miles O'Brien in the morning is aimed at making our show the newsy alternative to the other morning programs," he explained. "The Situation Room will simplify our afternoon schedule, and give us the chance to concentrate our resources on the biggest news stories of the day. ... It amps up our reportorial power."
Originating from Washington, The Situation Room will incorporate political analysts Jeff Greenfield and Bill Schneider, along with former Crossfire panelists Paul Begala, James Carville and Robert Novak. But the emphasis will be on breaking news and information gathering.
In a memo to the CNN staff yesterday, Klein described the new afternoon show as being "modeled in spirit after the White House Situation Room." He said it will feature Blitzer presiding over "teams of our top correspondents and experts to offer a range of up-to-the-second reporting on issues of homeland security, politics and national and world affairs." The goal: to make the program a "one-stop shop for viewers interested in monitoring the most significant events of any given day."
The changes reached into prime time, with Klein yesterday also naming new executive producers for two weeknight series, Anderson Cooper 360 and Paula Zahn Now. Zahn's 8 p.m. show was down 15 percent in viewership from last May. It is now seen by 482,000 viewers a weeknight, compared to the almost 2 million who tune into The O'Reilly Factor opposite it on Fox. Bill O'Reilly's program is up 6 percent from last May.
Klein is bringing in veteran news producer Victor Neufeld to reverse that dynamic. Neufeld, who will take over the program later this month, had been executive producer of the CBS Early Show. He is best known for his pioneering work in the prime-time newsmagazine format, having served as senior and executive producer of 20/20 from 1979 to 2000.
"Paula Zahn Now is already a good show," Klein said. "But with Neufeld, it will become a great one. That's what he did for 20/20. He's a hall-of-fame producer."
David Doss, former executive producer of ABC's PrimeTime Thursday and NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, will assume control of Anderson Cooper 360 later this month.