- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

CNN is out to shake up its own prime time with designer news, delivered by a debonair newsman already adored by devoted fans.

They love his clothes; they love his hair; they love his edge. Will they love his news?

Anderson Cooper assumes the mantle of CNN “anchordude” next week, providing a kind of wry travelogue through the day’s events.

And it is all about Mr. Cooper and his Cooperhood. “Anderson Cooper’s 360 Degrees” will be nimble, indeed, the anchorman promises.

“Fast, smart, savvy, sharp. This is news that is quick on its feet,” Mr. Cooper said by phone from New York yesterday. “We all get caught up in the news cycles without context. This program is meant to give perspective.”

CNN pines for Mr. Cooper’s perspective.

“He’s fresh. He’s our rising star,” said a CNN spokeswoman.

But that isn’t all. As son of Manhattan socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, dashing Yale grad, restless traveler and former reality TV host, Mr. Cooper is buzz-worthy.

Gossip columnists, media observers and Internet fan sites speculate endlessly on his celebrityhood, sartorial preferences, chiseled looks, romantic inclinations and personal quirks.

He was named one of the “sexiest men on the planet” in People magazine last year, revered by “Anderfans” who call him “a god among men” and “just a freakin’ genius” among other things. The New York press nicknamed him “anchordude.”

Mr. Cooper, 36, graciously dismisses the whole thing with his best dancing-class manners.

“I’m not a celebrity. I appreciate their attention, but celebrity has no meaning for me and I don’t pay attention to it,” Mr. Cooper said. “I actually follow my mother’s policy: Ignore the criticism and ignore the praise, too. I’m not a party animal. I’m a recluse.”

This might not jibe with recent press reports that have Mr. Cooper somewhere, with someone notable, in the wee, wee hours of the morning. He insists he’d rather be at home, calmly watching TV and having a quiet dinner.

Whatever the case, celebrity is part of Mr. Cooper’s pastiche.

“This is categorized as a news program, not entertainment. The news is the mission, and our first 20 minutes is an overview of the news of the day,” he said. “But I also want to talk about the celebritocracy. And the sub-celebritocracy. It’s important.”

He has little truck with the great debate about possible liberal — or more recently, conservative — bias in the news media.

“As far as I’m concerned, talk about bias makes a good subject for journalism schools,” Mr. Cooper said. “And that’s all. I plan to stay neutral.”

Meanwhile, the CNN viewership is evolving into omnivorous consumers of hard news, soft news, innuendo and rumor, he said.

“There’s been a generational shift in the audience. They take in all sorts of things. You can be a foreign policy wonk and still love MTV,” Mr. Cooper said. “That’s who’s watching news.”

CNN is no doubt convinced that Mr. Cooper’s sensitivity to potential hip new audiences will help them in their ratings war against the Fox News Channel. Though CNN has won some nightly rounds with special reporting from the New York blackout and other topics, Fox has triumphed over both CNN and MSNBC for the past 18 months.

Mr. Cooper’s new program features a punk-style musical theme from a group called Flim Flam, according to one source. The format contains five segments, including one devoted to print media and another titled “Overkill,” which examines news stories Mr. Cooper deems beaten to death by journalists who are lazy, relentless, or both.

“We all know this kind of story. Coverage goes on and on, until we say ‘enough already,’ and throw up our hands,” Mr. Cooper said. “But the nature of this beast is that another story is just around the corner. And of course, CNN is guilty, too. We overdo some stories. So I can’t finger point too much.”

Mr. Cooper has been with CNN for two years, previously anchoring a nightly headline news program, a morning show and providing some live reports from overseas locations. Previously, he hosted ABC’s overnight news program “World News Now,” as well as the network’s spy-themed reality series, “The Mole.”

He also has a built-in young fan base from his days as a reporter on “Channel One News,” which is piped into thousands of high schools as “homeroom news.”

“Anderson Cooper’s 360 Degrees” debuts Monday at 7 p.m.

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