Will Zucker save CNN from itself?

A headline from The Washington Post “Style” section online today asks the question: “Jeff Zucker is remaking CNN. Are viewers tuning in?” The outcome of that query appears to be somewhere between “no” and “someday perhaps.”

The Harvard-schooled Zucker — who was named at age 26 the youngest executive in the “Today” show history — still seems a TV industry wunderkind despite his rapid ascent taking some 25 years. He nonetheless is credited to many of the successes over the years at NBC and NBC Universal. That industry in now holding its breath to see if Zucker can deliver a bit of fresh O² to the first 24-hour news channel as he did to Oxygen and other NBC International products. Zucker seems to have a huge task ahead.

Ratings have fallen for a number of CNN time slots over the years. Some of these can be attributed to remarkable timing, such as that of Fox News rise during a Republican boom during the two terms of W. Bush. Fox also can thank distinctive right-wing propagandists like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and, until he just went too far off the farm, Glenn Beck.

CNN can also blame itself for the turnover of the channel’s various talent and likely an absence of strong leadership like that of the visionary CNN founder Ted Turner.  The list of “new” network anchors are hardly inspiring: Ashleigh Banfield, recycled from the early 2000’s, is an example. While her news credentials look good on paper she often exhibits a grating delivery on her 10 a.m. Central newscast. Banfield comes off too combative and too opinionated for a show that one assumes is for news rather than opinion. Of course, other CNN anchors seemed to have crossed over to the commentary street long ago as well.

Banfield is just a personal dislike as is Piers Morgan and Erin Burnett even though the latter is certainly prettier that just another pretty face. Other newer CNN hires are likewise disagreeable to me. Jake Tapper and Andrew Cuomo have what appear to be solid news chops but both leave me waiting for some breaking story to happen so the anchors might come alive.

I also see a lot of Northeastern college on resumes of many top CNN personnel. Certainly nothing is wrong with that part of the country but I have seen before the damage a lack of geographic diversity can bring to regional or national news.

One new show I am anxious to see is the Sunday night preview of “Parts Unknown” hosted by chef, writer and traveler Anthony Bourdain. His Travel Channel series “No Reservations” and “The Layover” belong in the Top 10 of TV overall in recent years. Well, the latter below that even though it was excellent as well. Bourdain is a character whose taste might not please all. He brings more of a writer’s perspective and a narrator’s voice to the small screen while his shows provide excellent visuals. His frank exposure of drug usage which included heroin and cocaine may also prove a turnoff to some. But he certainly brings lifesaving measures needed by CNN.

No conclusions are here just as nothing solid comes from the Post’s headline. As always we will have to just tune in to see.

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