Erin Burnett challenges CNN's troubled history with women as evening anchors on new show OutFront
The list of women who have tried and failed to find success in prime time on CNN is long and daunting.
Connie Chung, gone in 2003. Paula Zahn, resigned in 2007. Campbell Brown, left in 2010. Columnist Kathleen Parker, co-host to former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, pushed out in January.
On Monday Erin Burnett – the former NBC News/CNBC anchor whose beauty once stopped Chris Matthews in his tracks -- will try breaking that awful streak, wooing CNN audiences with her new show OutFront just before the official start of prime time at 7 p.m.
Despite CNN’s recent difficulty on this score, she’s confident her new offering will chart a better course for the channel.
“I think it’s a strength,” she said. “At that time of night, there’s still some semblance of people running around, doing lots of things at home. Women’s issues matter to me and they matter to the show. We’re going to embrace it, because you can’t change your gender…well, I guess you can, but I’m not gonna be Chaz Bono, right?”
In a flash, Burnett reveals the two contrasting natures she says OutFront will showcase; a news nerd’s focus on the facts and an occasional willingness to do something totally silly to shake things up. Check her blog by clicking here.
It’s what led her to strap a bra on her face as a gas mask on MSNBC – yes, the video is still out there in YouTube land – and what Burnett hopes might attract slightly younger viewers who aren’t interested in having Matthews or Fox News star Bill O’Reilly interpret the news for them.
“I do believe, and I hope not irrationally, that people care about news, they want trusted people to deliver the news, and there’s a modern way of doing the news which does have a point of view and a personality,” she said. “If you get that passion and that advocacy in there, in a fact-based way, there’s real room for that. And people outside the (average audience age) of 61, anyone from 20 to 61, that’s a huge market base that is currently underserved.”
Some might say that audience is already getting served by The Daily Show and Colbert Report. And there’s lots of evidence that the kind of steady ratings advertisers love in primetime comes from loudly opinionated pundits pressing a very specifically political point of view.
Burnett has built a team from scratch at CNN to challenge that notion, insisting there’s an audience at 7 p.m. for original reporting. And even though she got her start in the financial end of things, starting her career as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs and moving on to media jobs at Bloomberg Television and CNBC, she’s leaving that brand behind for a general interest news platform.
Not long ago, some might have predicted that move would have included a job at the Today show, where she often served as guest co-host during her time at CNBC. But as host Meredith Vieira announced her departure from Today and longtime newsreader Ann Curry was revealed as her successor, Burnett was announcing her jump to CNN.
“I can only tell you NBC had a very amazing and exciting offer for me, (but0 this was just more compelling,” she said, diplomatically. “CNN’s core includes a lot of things I’m passionate about. It felt the most consistent with who I am.”
She’s the last link in a new prime time lineup which moved silver haired star Anderson Cooper to 8 p.m. and shifts John King an hour earlier to make room for her. Already that shuffle has paid some dividends; Cooper’s ratings at 8 p.m. are up 38 percent this September versus a year ago, according to the New York Times.
Burnett won’t say who her first guest is yet, or exactly what they might be reporting. But she does promise the show will evolve over time, avoiding the temptation to toss in the kitchen sink for the first broadcast.
“People get worried when they launch new shows that the TV reviewers are going to review them the next day, so they try to jam everything in like a meat loaf, put a little bit of everything in the first show,” she said, laughing. “We’re trying really hard not to do that.”