Anderson Cooper began his syndicated daytime talk show Anderson on Monday, and it is, of course, unfair to evaluate a new talk show on the basis of its opening edition. But TV critics, like any other TV viewers, make immediate snap judgments that then change over time, so here are a few that occurred to me watching the new Anderson:
• The opening credits which feature footage of Cooper in action (how many viewers are going to tweet that you should be wearing a helmet while on that bike, Anderson?), are augmented with buzz-words floating across the screen: “Real” “Raw” “Ready.” What? Slight miscalculation here in making one’s show sound like either a wrestling match or soft-core porn.
• Lining the back wall of the audience seats are big, metal-gray letters (a color that matches Cooper’s hair) spelling out “A N D E R S O N”: Pretty!
• Cooper’s first show is devoted to the life and death of Amy Winehouse, with family members including the late singer’s parents as his guests. I get the idea that he wanted to start his show with a topic that was both serious (to resonate with his hard-news credibility) and pop-culture (to signal that he’s going to do celebrity-themed shows). And some of the conversation was interesting, and poignant. While Winehouse’s father, Mitch, said, “We would not have been surprised if she’d died four years ago,” he also claims that Amy was on the mend – “We could see the light at the end of the tunnel” – were it not for the sudden death he ascribes to “a seizure [and] no one was there to rescue her.”
• Throughout, Cooper is calm but assiduous in his questioning, including personal details when they seem appropriate (mentioning the suicide of his brother as an example of how horrific and numbing the sudden death of a loved one is).
• Coming attractions for future shows this week show Anderson reunited with his New Year’s Eve buddy Kathy Griffin: Inevitable, but also probably will be fun.
• Anyone who thinks viewers won’t accept Cooper in this role while he maintains his serious-anchor role on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 is foolish. For one thing, it’s not as though Cooper hasn’t gone down the pop-culture road before. This is, after all, a man who hosted a glorious season of The Mole. For another, news anchors have always dabbled in pop culture coverage. It’s clear that Cooper is using Phil Donahue as a rough role model, mixing news and fluff in what he hopes will be the right amounts to secure ratings while also engaging in some serious discussion.
All in all, a good opening day; I’ll keep watching the rest of the week. Will you?