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.
On Monday Erin Burnett — the former NBC News/CNBC anchor whose beauty once stopped Chris Matthews in his tracks during a show — will try breaking that awful streak, wooing CNN audiences with her new 7 p.m. show OutFront.
Despite CNN's recent difficulty on this score, she's confident her new offering will fare better because of her gender.
"I think it's a strength," she said. "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 going to 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.
It's what led the thirysomething anchor to strap a bra on her face as a gas mask on MSNBC — yes, the video is still out there in cyberspace — 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 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. "And (on cable news), 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 the steady ratings advertisers love in the evening hours comes mostly from opinionated pundits pressing a very specific, political point of view.
Burnett has built a team from scratch at CNN to challenge that notion, focusing on original reporting. And even though she started her career as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs, moving on to media jobs at Bloomberg Television and CNBC, she's leaving that business-oriented brand behind for a general interest news platform.
She's the last link in a new prime time lineup that moved silver haired star Anderson Cooper to 8 p.m. and shifts John King an hour earlier. Already that shuffle has paid some dividends; Cooper's ratings at 8 p.m. are up 38 percent this September vs. a year ago, according to the New York Times.
Burnett won't say who her first guest is yet. 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."