To anyone watching television in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it was obvious that of all the windswept reporters assailing the chaos, Anderson Cooper stood out.
Now, the intense, silver-haired Cooper has been rewarded. CNN, the network he joined four years ago, announced yesterday that as of Monday, Cooper will be the sole anchor of its two-hour slot beginning at 10 p.m., effectively "topping off CNN's prime-time schedule" on weekdays.
The network's announcement that Cooper, 38, would be its late-evening standard-bearer came in a press release that did not once mention Aaron Brown, 56, whose NewsNight show has been vaporized as a result and whose career at CNN is suddenly over.
Both Cooper and Brown were on vacation this week, the network said, and could not be reached for comment. But the president of CNN/U.S., Jonathan Klein, said in a telephone interview that "after an extraordinary year of reporting" in which Cooper covered the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the death of Pope John Paul II, the Iraq elections, the unrest in Lebanon, the famine in Niger and, finally, Katrina, CNN "wanted to find a way to get Anderson on the air more."
To that end, the network brought Cooper into Brown's show in early September and expanded it to two hours, in a move that lessened Brown's prominence and, in some people's view, foretold his exit. Cooper's new time slot will bear the same name, Anderson Cooper 360, as his old one, which had been on the air from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays since March 2003 and featured its host, in a high-tech environment, seemingly punching up stories on a laptop computer.
The new lineup also boosts the airtime of Wolf Blitzer, whose Situation Room will be seen for an extra hour, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., in addition to an earlier two-hour slot starting at 4 p.m.
"We wanted to build our prime-time schedule around The Situation Room and Anderson to take it through to midnight," Klein said. "That narrowed our options as far as Aaron went. It was fairly easy to come to the conclusion that the best step was to part ways."
Klein said the decision had been reached "mutually" between CNN and Brown after a discussion of other possible options at the network, none of which were satisfactory to either side. Brown, whose contract was to have expired in July 2007, earned about $1 million a year.
Like Cooper, Brown is an alumnus of ABC News. He was to have made his debut on CNN on Oct. 15, 2001, on what was then a new program, NewsNight, but he was pressed into service more than a month earlier, on Sept. 11, after terrorists attacked New York and Washington.
Brown, whose gentle, sometimes folksy demeanor is in marked contrast to Cooper's more direct, rapid-fire style, had anchored ABC's World News Tonight on Saturdays and sometimes sat in for Peter Jennings on weekdays. Previously, he worked at television stations in Seattle and was a radio talk show host in Los Angeles and Minnesota.
"He was low-key to the point of somnolence," said Bob Zelnick, a former ABC News correspondent who worked with Brown and who is now chairman of the journalism department at Boston University. "There were people who appreciated it and who loved it, but not enough of them. Cooper, though, is a highly stylized creature of the media. He's interesting and stimulating, not so much for what he says but in terms of his command over the medium. He's always been looked at as a guy who might be a bridge to the younger generation. That's something that CNN, as well as the others, sorely needs."
On the Philadelphia Inquirer's Web site yesterday, before the news came officially from CNN, columnist Gail Shister predicted ascension of the young correspondent and said it "would cement Cooper's image as the new face of CNN."
Shister said the most glaring difference between Cooper and the man he has unseated is visual. "When Cooper surfs the Net on his laptop for the latest `downloads,' Brown looks like his slightly annoyed grandfather," Shister wrote. "Not a pretty sight. And not one that will attract younger viewers."
Before joining CNN in 2001, Cooper, the son of New York socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, worked for ABC News and hosted that network's reality show The Mole. He had previously worked for Channel One News, for which he covered stories in Bosnia, Iran, Israel, Russia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa and Vietnam.
In Fortune magazine last month, Cooper was described as "silver-tongued," and "the future of hard news."
"His coverage of Hurricane Katrina - specifically lighting into Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-Louisiana) for thanking George W. Bush while bodies in the street were `being eaten by rats' - wowed viewers," the magazine said. "He's at once comforting, confrontational, and - oh, who are we kidding? - he's better-looking than Bob Schieffer!"