Anderson Cooper on the End of His Talk Show, New CNN Boss Jeff Zucker and 'Jeopardy!' Rumors (Q&A)
Audiences love him and networks want him, and that's why Anderson Cooper easily earns a spot on the 2013 edition of The Hollywood Reporter's 35 Most Powerful People in Media. The dashing host of Anderson Cooper 360, 45, is not only CNN's biggest star, he's also an ongoing contributor to CBS News ratings juggernaut 60 Minutes. Only Anderson Live -- currently taping its second and final season -- seemed out of reach of his Midas touch. But with his CNN contract set to expire in the fall, Cooper, who came out as gay last July (earning him a special GLAAD merit badge from Madonna), finds his name on top of everyone's wish list.
THR caught up with Cooper for a freewheeling conversation about facing his fears, his new CNN boss Jeff Zucker and his helpless addiction to The Walking Dead.
The Hollywood Reporter: You're saying goodbye to your talk show at the end of this season. Looking back, would you say it was a worthwhile endeavor?
Anderson Cooper: It was absolutely worthwhile. I like learning new things and I like developing new skill sets and I like challenging myself in different ways, and I think the daytime show has done that, you know? I certainly enjoy it. I wish we had the show the first year that we ended up with the second year. It took us awhile to kind of figure out what we wanted to do. I’m very pleased with the show this year and how audiences have responded to it, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it every day. It’s been kind of a jolt of energy in my day and it’s working in front of an audience and doing a show that has a variety of topics and a variety of serious-to-light stuff.
THR: It seems like it was really starting to hit its stride following a format closer to Live! than The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Cooper: That was the other thing. I really wanted a sidekick from the get-go. And I think we really were limited by the room the first year. I mean it was a beautiful room, a beautiful backdrop and stuff, but it wasn’t available to use when we wanted it -- because it’s not a television venue, it’s a performance space that does concerts and things. We could only kind of shoot around their schedule and that was really a limiting factor. Every day was sort of Groundhog’s Day, and you couldn’t develop a life within the show. We were shooting shows two or three weeks in advance and it didn’t allow you say on the show, “Wow, did you see what happened yesterday on the show? Well, today we re-contacted that person and this is what happened.” That was something I really regret and we kind of realized early on, but you know, we weren’t able to make the change until the second year.
THR: Maybe it will come together the next time around.
Cooper: You never know.
THR: You did some extraordinary work this year reporting on the Syrian civil war and Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. How do you approach covering stories of such unthinkable tragedy?
Cooper: Syria we’ve been covering intensively since the first demonstrations in Daraa, two years ago now. One of the extraordinary things is that it started not as a revolution, it started as people protesting the arrest of teenagers and kids who had written on a wall in Daraa. But because of the response to the regime, it became something else. We’ve actually been able to witness it because of the courage of people to not only stand up, but to turn on their cell phones and cameras and videotape the atrocities. I just think it’s important to continue to bear witness to what’s happening.
Certainly in Newtown, to be there in the wake of what occurred, it's obviously a difficult thing for a reporter. You don’t want to do anything that makes things worse for the community, and so we tried to cover it in a way that was sensitive to the families. I know what it’s like to have a camera pointed at me at a time of grief in my life as a kid, and so I’m particularly sensitive to that, being around others who are suffering and not intruding on their grief. We were covering it in a way that was respectful and not focusing on the killer, whose name I think I mentioned once or twice in our coverage. I want people to remember the names of the kids and the adults who were killed.
THR: Your work has taken you to some of the most dangerous places on the planet, including a recent 60 Minutes story in which you swam near hungry crocodiles in the Nile. What is the internal dialogue that tells you, "I need to be there," or, "That's stupidly dangerous and I pass."
Cooper: I don’t want to do anything that puts my team members, my camera people or producers, in danger, so it’s an ongoing dialogue on all the stories that we do. Something like diving with crocodiles, I was basically shooting it myself with a GoPro and the two people who pioneered this kind of diving. So you try to minimize the number of people exposed as much as possible. Certainly when it’s a risky place, it’s an ongoing discussion all the time. It’s a question of who you’re working with, what local people you have with you, how well do you know the area, how well do you know the forces on the ground. There’s a number of places I’ve wanted to go but it’s been determined too risky or that I’m relatively well-known, and therefore it might not be wise for me to pop up in this place.
THR: Would you have called yourself a fearless kid growing up? Or is that something that has developed as your career has flourished?
Cooper: I don’t think I’m fearless at all. I think anybody who says they're fearless doesn’t last very long. I think I’m pretty cautious actually. I don’t believe in letting fear dictate what you do, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel afraid or frightened. I think it’s normal and healthy to be afraid in situations. That’s something I’ve frankly worked on my entire adult life -- continuing to plunge headfirst to things that scare me most. For whatever reason, I’ve been able to continue working in even situations which induce a fair amount of fear.