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Anderson Cooper trying talk show format

Anderson Ratings-challenged CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is about to experiment with a live studio audience.

The network is recruiting a crowd for two shows that will serve as a testing ground for a potential new primetime talk format.

CNN is calling the trial episodes "specials" to keep expectations low in case the project doesn't make it to the series stage. But, really, expectations couldn't be much lower for Anderson -- his show has recently been beaten by repeats of programs on MSNBC and HLN.

A studio audience for a serious news program is a bit like adding a laugh track to a eulogy, so it's unclear how this is going to work with Anderson, who's an agreeable enough newsreader and interviewer but not exactly the sort of chap you can picture wooing a live audience. The network would only confirm the format will be "conversational." 

This isn't the first time news nets have played around with studio audiences. When "Primetime Live" first went on the air on ABC in 1989, it used a studio audience. And CBS News experimented with a studio audience on "The Morning Program" in 1987. CNN's own "Talkback Live" aired for many years starting in 1994. Cooper's producers reportedly try about a dozen test shows a year searching for new format tweaks for the host.

The specials will be taped April 15th and 22nd, but no air date has been