Cooper, who turns 44 Thursday, seems poised to become the Ryan Seacrest of news. In addition to his show on CNN and his segments for 60 Minutes, Cooper’s premiering a new talk show this fall on CTV that he says will combine elements of Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres and Phil Donahue.
“For some people, the news doesn’t connect with their daily lives, but on daytime television, you can connect with an audience in an emotional way,” says Cooper, the Yale-educated son of Gloria Vanderbilt and writer Wyatt Emory Cooper, who covered the war in Burma with a forged press pass when he couldn’t land a journalism job after school. “If Walter Cronkite was on TV today, I think he’d also have a sailing show on the Travel Network.”
The afternoon talk show, which will be filmed in Manhattan, will be a mixture of pop culture guests and the heartwarming stories of everyday people. It’s a populist approach, says Cooper, that he hopes will leave his audience inspired.
“I find it rewarding doing CNN and 60 Minutes, but it’s nice to exercise different muscles,” says Cooper, who was recently in the news when his team was attacked during the Egyptian revolt. “I watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Atlanta as much as anyone else, and I don’t think that makes me any less credible because I care about Syria, as well.”
This won’t be Cooper’s first trip away from the news desk. In 2000, while working as a reporter on 20/20, he began to feel burnt-out from the job.
“I was outside a strip club at 3 a.m. with Brandi and Tiffany protesting a lap dance ordinance and thought, ‘What is the difference between this and a reality show?’ ” asks Cooper, who left the program to host The Mole, an early reality-TV show. “Then 9/11 happened, and on 9/12, I got a call from CNN asking if I would go to Afghanistan – things had changed and I had to get back into news.”
Cooper says he’ll be able to leave his talk show at a moment’s notice to cover breaking stories, (he hadn’t seen Winfrey’s last episode because he was in Missouri covering the tornado), but that newscasters and entertainment personalities no longer have to be from Venus or Mars.
“Viewers know that the person on the news is just pretending to be all-knowing and that person blow-drys their hair and is overpaid and wearing makeup,” Cooper says. “It’s very easy to become a cheesy TV personality and I think I’ve been able to resist it so far and I certainly don’t want to become a cheesy person now.”