Wolf Blitzer's Role Expanded in Fox-Fighting Effort

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NEW YORK ( -- CNN’s golden boy just got his hour, or two.

Anderson Cooper, whose national profile was significantly raised while covering Hurricane Katrina for the cable news network, will host the network’s 10 p.m. to midnight news show. Previously, Anderson Cooper 360 ran during the 7 p.m. hour. The move bumps NewsNight, anchored by Aaron Brown, out of the lineup and was made while Messrs. Cooper and Brown are each out on vacation.

The Situation Room, anchored by Wolf Blitzer, will take over the 7 p.m. hour, in addition the 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. slot it already occupies. Mr. Brown is leaving the network.

Media darling
Since Katrina, Mr. Cooper has become a media darling, landing a profile in New York magazine and scoring $1 million book deal. He became a permanent part of Mr. Brown’s NewsNight after Katrina hit, when CNN expanded the program from 10 p.m. to midnight, dropping the 11 p.m. repeat of Lou Dobbs Tonight.

“We’re building our prime-time strategy around two tent poles, Anderson and The Situation Room,” Jon Klein, CNN’s U.S. president, said yesterday in an internal announcement regarding the changes. “Both have had momentum in last few months and have shown limitless potential in terms of viewers.”

Favorable demographics at 10 p.m.
Mr. Klein said Mr. Cooper has fared particularly well among the advertiser-coveted 25- to 54-year-old demographic and that there are more viewers within that age group watching TV at 10 p.m. than at 7 p.m. That should, he said, translate into higher ratings and more advertising dollars.

In the month of October, Mr. Cooper’s ratings for adults 25-to-54 were up 32% over the year-ago period (excluding four nights in 2004 that aired the presidential and vice presidential debates). The post-Katrina live 11 p.m. broadcast grew 27% in total viewers and 41% in adults 25-to-54 compared to last year. From third-quarter 2004 to third-quarter 2005, Mr. Cooper’s viewership grew 82%, from 527,000 to 959,000. During that same period, Mr. Brown’s viewers grew 57%, from 721,000 to 1.1 million. During the same 12 months, NewsNight's 10 p.m. ratings for adults 25-to-54 increased 100% vs. Anderson Cooper 360, which saw a 95% increase at 7 p.m.

Fox News juggernaugt
Both programs, however, still trail Fox News’ Fox Report with Shephard Smith and repeats of The O’Reilly Factor by significant margins.

“It’s always good to have a few people who can be the face of the network and resonate with the brand, like [Bill] O’Reilly does at Fox,” said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at Carat. “Maybe his being young, engaging and a tough news guy could be that for the CNN brand.”

Of course, building the prime-time lineup around Mr. Cooper and Mr. Blitzer leads observers to wonder what the network intends for Paula Zahn, who hosts the 8 p.m. hour -- a tough time slot that pits her not only against Mr. O’Reilly, the clear cable news leader who averaged 2.7 million viewers in October, almost 1 million more than the next closest program, Hannity & Colmes, and but also the start of the broadcast networks’ prime-time schedules.

Paula Zahn's 'distinctive voice'
“They’ve found a good, distinctive voice at Paula Zahn Now,” Mr. Klein said. He stopped short of suggesting that her show counterprograms Mr. O’Reilly’s show, going after a female audience, but he said the strategy is to play to who she is. “She’s a working mom who’s intelligent, authoritative and respected and who cares about stories that affect people in similar situations.” Victor Neufeld, a former producer of Barbara Walters’ 20/20, is the producer of Now, and Mr. Klein said anchor and producer have jelled nicely.

Mr. Brown’s NewsNight began after his coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks. In a memo to staff, Mr. Klein said Mr. Brown “is very much looking forward to some well-deserved time off with his family” and thanked him for his “enormous contributions to CNN since his groundbreaking anchoring of Sept. 11th through the war in Iraq to the Tsunami to the recent hurricanes.”

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