Daytime Anderson Cooper is not so different from nighttime Anderson Cooper.
Sure, the primetime CNN anchor, the star of AC 360, is clearly going for a certain relatability—reaching out to hug a tearful young lady in the audience and squeezing the shoulder of a drug addict’s grief-stricken mom during Monday’s debut of Anderson—but he never quite loses that WASP reserve.
During the kickoff program, featuring the bereaved parents, aunt, stepmother, and boyfriend of dead pop star Amy Winehouse, Cooper was so matter-of-fact and understated when he mentioned that his brother took his own life, he could easily have been discussing tennis elbow.
“I had a brother who committed suicide, and I was away and my mom called me,” he shared with Amy’s boyfriend, Reg Traviss, in a tone more reportorial than emotional, “and I remember literally feeling like the room I was in had collapsed.”
Cooper might be venturing into the often schlocky precincts of syndicated gabfests—a red-light district where Maury, Jerry, Tyra, and their rivals pose suggestively in the window and hawk their wares—but Anderson announces itself as a classy alternative, the television equivalent of a hedge-lined neighborhood with elegant houses and manicured lawns.
And yet the imperially slim, silver-maned host, the 44-year-old son of writer Wyatt Cooper and social icon and fashionista Gloria Vanderbilt, is no snob. Despite his serious journalism bona fides, notably war reporting in various godforsaken climes, he claims to be riveted by Bravo’s Real Housewives series, has been a frequent substitute host on Live With Regis & Kelly, co-anchors CNN’s New Year’s Eve show with D-lister comedian Kathy Griffin, and once anchored a cheesy reality show titled The Mole.
And lest anyone forget, it was Cooper’s angry, almost Geraldo-like grilling of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who defended the federal government’s emergency response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, that made him a star in the first place.
Thus the promotional teases interspersed in the premiere make clear that future installments of Anderson will feature its namesake getting spray-tanned with Snooki, interviewing Gerard Depardieu about his airborne urinary habits, and talking with his famous mother about his older brother Carter’s terrible 1988 suicide (by jumping out a window of the family apartment).
Translation: Cooper knows the nature of the market he has entered, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to thrive in it.
Monday’s show was smartly produced, making deft use of video of the singing sensation in her private moments; Winehouse’s cabdriver father, Mitch—who kept dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief—was an unexpectedly appealing witness to his daughter’s life and death; and Cooper managed to be inquisitive and sympathetic without being smarmy as he squeezed whatever drama and pathos he could out of the family’s tragedy.
Cooper got Anderson off to a strong start. But whether his attempt to be the thinking person’s daytime host lures the necessary eyeballs and ratings is another story entirely, for a later date.