New talk show brings out Anderson Cooper's soft-news side
Conjure, if you will, a hosting model that is the very antithesis of Oprah. It would be a man, obviously. Kabuki-complected. Albino white hair. Slender as a matador. Raised in privileged circumstances in Manhattan in a family with old-money ties. Ivy League educated.
Conjure, if you will, a hosting model that is the very antithesis of Oprah.
It would be a man, obviously. Kabuki-complected. Albino white hair. Slender as a matador. Raised in privileged circumstances in Manhattan in a family with old-money ties. Ivy League educated.
We have your man: globe-sprinting CNN reporter and 60 Minutes contributor Anderson Cooper.
Yet to many people's vast surprise, he's doing a bang-up job of filling the void left by Miss O with his new daytime talk show, Anderson. While continuing all his hard-news duties.
Several questions immediately fling up their hands, clamoring to be answered.
How does this generation's Dan Rather handle the fizzy, showbizzy fare that is part and parcel of the chat format?
Freakishly well. It may surprise you to learn that Cooper is a pop-culture omnivore.
That side of his temperament has emerged only in the last few years.
"I started filling in for Regis [on Live! with Regis and Kelly], and I did some things for Oprah," says Cooper, 44. "And I found that I enjoyed the variety of topics, the enthusiasm of the audience, and the fun you could have on a daily basis. I began to show my personality in a less formal setting."
"So many people know him as this champion of people who have no voice," says Kelly Ripa. "When he started hosting with me, we brought out the irreverent side of him."
Cooper's executive producer, Cathy Chermol Schrijver, a Bryn Mawr native, says, "When we started talking about this show and developing it, anyone who hadn't seen him on Regis and Kelly would say, 'Really? For daytime?' He just didn't seem like the natural choice.
"But he's so well-versed on everything, including pop culture. He knows more about The Real Housewives than I think they do."
The other question demanding attention: How in the world does he find time to attend to all his jobs? There's Anderson weekdays in syndication, Anderson Cooper 360º weeknights on CNN, and a recently increased workload on 60 Minutes for CBS.
It's a good thing TV doesn't have too many openings on the graveyard shift.
"He has a full plate, obviously," says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Telepictures Productions, which syndicates Anderson, giving new meaning to the word understatement. "He's been managing it really well. He's got one of the best work ethics I've ever seen."
"It takes incredible discipline," says Chermol Schrijver. "And he has that. If he didn't, this could never work. Ever. He has an unbelievable ability to do this and his news show and packages for 60 Minutes.
"I asked him, 'When are you going to get that done?' He said, 'I do a lot of the 60 Minutes on weekends because it involves traveling to other parts of the world.' I was like, 'Oh well, of course. It's only an 18-hour plane ride.' "
All right, Anderson. You can see where this is headed. Are you a workaholic?
"I don't know what that means," he says gruffly. "I don't view what I do as work. It's an extension of the things I'm passionate about and interested in. If I viewed it as work, I don't think I could do it as much as I do."
Just so you know, AC, that's the same rationalization every workaholic trots out.
"I probably am one," he concedes. "But it doesn't feel onerous."
The talk-show format has afforded him a welcome equipoise with the disaster reporting he's famous for.
"The thing I most love about news is going to a story, especially going to a place [where] something significant has happened," he says. "It's not people having theoretical discussions. It's real life.
"In daytime you can do a lot of topics that, while they might not make headlines, they really do resonate with people and impact their lives. That is very satisfying for me, professionally and personally."
Cooper has a remarkable facility to shift between his two personas.
"True story," says Chermol Schrijver. "We're talking about the show, and he's in Somalia. He says, 'Hold on, I have to do a live shot.' I've got CNN in my office, and I watch him do a live standup in Somalia, and then he gets back on the phone with me to talk about Sarah Jessica Parker. And he scored a 10 out of 10 on each."
At least, he saves time on his commute. Anderson is shot in a stunning studio of chrome and blond wood with an expansive view of Central Park South.
His AC360º is shot in the same building complex overlooking Manhattan's Columbus Circle.
In one of his most emotional shows to date, he had on his mother, heiress and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, to discuss the 1988 suicide of Cooper's older sibling, Carter.
As a lifelong New Yorker with distinctive looks that announce themselves from about two blocks away, the bachelor newsman is recognized and hailed everywhere he goes in Manhattan.
"It doesn't bother me," he says. "It seems like a silly thing to complain about. I really don't think of myself as a public person. It doesn't benefit me on my job."
"One of the things about Anderson," says Ripa, "is that he's unintentionally sexy. That's a home run."
Many people find his sex appeal ambiguous.
All right, Anderson. You can see where this is headed. Are you gay or are you straight?
"It's understandable that people are interested," he says, chuckling. "We live in an age when everyone likes to talk about the people they see on television. The Internet certainly contributes to that.
"I understand the curiosity," he continues. "I've always taken the position that my sex life isn't anyone's business. It has nothing to do with how I do my job."
That last word should no doubt be plural. In any event, he's doing the latest one quite well, thank you.
Despite an ingrained air of reserve, he takes time to connect with the people in the studio audience, running up and down the aisles à la Phil Donahue and fielding questions from the crowd during breaks.
A woman from Canada asks whether he will wear a bike helmet if she sends him one. Cooper stirred up a safety debate because Anderson's opening collage shows him riding his bike on the streets of Manhattan bareheaded. (It really is his preferred mode of transport. No limo baby he.)
"I really have shopped around for a helmet," he tells her. "If I ever find one that doesn't make my head look like a sperm, I'll buy it."
After a pause he adds, "Of course, I know a breathing tube isn't very flattering, either."
Why do we think that even if Cooper were hit by a Brinks truck, he'd still find a way to do two shows the next day?
Anderson Cooper on reporting from global hot spots and TV shows he's hooked on: www.philly.com/andersonEndText