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CNN Presses ‘New Day’ to Hit Hard in the Morning

Variety logo Variety 6/15/2017 Brian Steinberg
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CNN said it intends to continue flouting the typical conventions of TV’s morning-news programs with its “New Day,” a show executives said Thursday morning is built to hold newsmakers accountable rather than ease viewers into the A.M. with soothing tones and cross-staff chatter.

“‘New Day’ is there to hold both sides accountable,” said Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, at a press event Thursday. “We are doing the straightest news program on the straightest news channel.” “New Day” saw its audience rise 50% in the first quarter of 2017 among viewers between the ages of 25 and 54 – the audience most coveted by advertisers in news programming – and 27% overall.  Zucker said the program has helped CNN generate the biggest audience it has ever had between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. The program is preceded by the early-morning news program “Early Start.”

But “New Day” is not nearly as light or fluffy as the scrambled eggs many of its viewers likely consume as they watch. Instead, co-hosts Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota spend a lot of time pressing politicians and other guests to move off prepared talking points and answer tough questions. In recent days, for example, Cuomo had a heated to-and-fro with Sebastian Gorka, a White House national security aide, over President Trump’s proposed travel ban. “What you’ve just spun is classic fake news,” Gorka said during a minutes-long conversation. “”I don’t think it’s spin,” Cuomo retorted. “I think that it’s a little bit of logic that you’re having a tough time dealing with.”

Camerota and Cuomo acknowledged that members of the Trump administration have been reluctant to appear on the program. One challenge, Camerota suggested, is that White House officials seem unable to keep pace with a President who is likely to change his mind or pivot to a new policy at a moment’s notice. “I don’t expect them to be able to channel the President,” she said. “I’ve changed my expectations.”

That said, CNN has a standing request with the White House to interview President Donald Trump, said Zucker, and would be eager for the opportunity to do so. “I believe CNN is the only major journalism organization in the country that has not had an interview with Trump as President,” he said. “That tells you he knows he will be held to account if he appeared on CNN.”

Zucker and the “New Day” anchors took some time to discuss the controversy that seems to have drawn the gaze of every TV-news staffer in the industry: Megyn Kelly’s coming interview with Alex Jones, a popular provocateur who delivers false conspiracy reports via streaming video.  An interview between Jones and Kelly is slated to run this Sunday on her new NBC News newsmagazine. A teaser presented in recent days showing Kelly interviewing Jones has sparked backlash, particularly from victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, which Jones falsely labeled as being a hoax.

“My feeling is that I’m interested in how Alex Jones justifies the sickening philosophy,” said Camerota. “The task and the responsibility is on the interviewer to be prosecutorial and to really hold his feet to the fire,” she said.

Cuomo suggested the teaser brought Kelly unwanted attention and may not have presented the segment in the best light. “It got her in trouble here.”

“Let’s not prejudge what the story is until we see it,” said Zucker. “But they’ve done themselves no favors in the way they’ve marketed this.”

But the trio tried to steer attention back to their program, which they positioned as a place where viewers can see people in the news being held to a high standard. When people go off message, “you have to call it out,” said Cuomo. “And I do it every day.”

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