CNN Makes Morning Lineup Revamp Official

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Programming News
Mon, 11/07/2011 - 13:04
Soledad O'Brien returns to early hours with Ashleigh Banfield, Zoraida Sambolin
CNN has made the changes to its morning lineup official, announcing Thursday that Soledad O'Brien would return to hosting the network's mornings along with tapping Ashleigh Banfield and Zoraida Sambolin for the early hours, as previously reported by B&C.
O'Brien will front 7-9 a.m. ET/ 4-6a PT, where she previously hosted CNN's American Morning from 2003-07, while Banfield, an ABC News correspondent, and Sambolin, most recently a local news anchor in Chicago, have been tapped to host the 5-7 a.m. ET/2-5a PT hours.
The as-yet-untitled programs, which effectively dismantle American Morning, will be launched sometime in 2012. CNN has hired Shannon High from NBC's peacock Productions to be executive producer of both programs.
This anchor shakeup is the latest in a long line of changes to American Morning in the last year. After co-anchor John Roberts left the network to join Fox News in January, CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi started filling in alongside co-host Kiran Chetry. When Chetry left in July, Christine Romans and Carol Costello joined Velshi on the program.
Ken Jautz, executive VP of CNN/U.S. says the new morning show will be more conversational and interview-based instead of the prompter-driven format traditional of many morning shows, including American Morning.
"It will be broader than any of the other morning cable news shows," he said in an interview with B&C. "It will of course include political coverage but not be narrowly focused on the political developments of the day. And it will bring the full range of CNN's newsgathering apparatus, both domestically and internationally, to bear."
Jautz called the revamp of the morning programming the "final piece" in the lineup changes he has pushed though in an effort to improve ratings since being tapped to head the network in September 2010. Among all its anchor changes, American Morning had become mostly an afterthought in the morning ratings race dominated by NBC's Today and cable entries like Fox News' Fox & Friends.
MSNBC's Morning Joe, which has seen the most year-to-date growth of any of the cable morning shows, has had success with a conversational format that relies on in-studio guests, though Jautz says CNN's show will be less politically focused and cover a broader range of news.
"We think there's an opportunity in that so much of the morning is narrowly focused on domestic politics and the political squabbling of the day," he said. "It will definitely not be an inside-the-Beltway feel or limitation."
The format will also play to O'Brien's strengths, who since leaving the mornings in 2007 has been producing documentaries for the network like her In America series.
"I think particularly with her many documentaries in recent years, she has proven herself that she can talk to anybody, from all backgrounds and walks of life," Jautz said. "She's a very good interviewer."
O'Brien will continue to produce some documentaries in additional to her new primary morning role, though she will necessarily do fewer.
The selection of O'Brien along with Banfield and Sambolin underscores CNN's desire to fill its lineup with anchors who are proven journalists, as evidenced with its primetime lineup changes in July that canceled the show fronted by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and introduced one with former CNBC anchor Erin Burnett.
At ABC News, Banfield has reported for programs like Good Morning America and 20/20; prior to that she was an anchor for CourtTV (now truTV) and gained attention for her coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent Iraq War for NBC News.
Sambolin was most recently co-anchor of the morning program at the NBC affiliate in Chicago and fill-in anchor for Telemundo Chicago, where she worked at the NBCUniversal-owned English and Spanish-language stations simultaneously.
After the new programs debut, Velshi will no longer be a part of CNN's mornings, and instead will launch a daily business show on CNN International, World Business Today. He will continue in his role as chief business correspondent and do segments across CNN daytime and primetime programs.
Romans will provide business reporting for the new morning block and Costello will continue as an anchor and correspondent for CNN. All three current anchors will continue to lead American Morning until the new morning lineup launches in 2012.