Anderson Cooper Shows His Oprah-Side on New Talk Show

Anderson Cooper
Anderson Cooper
 Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

MIAMI -- The two biggest gabbers to enter the firstrun syndie sweepstakes in the fall couldn't be more different in origin, approach and likely appeal.

They're both here at NATPE in Miami to glad-hand with TV station general managers who have already bought one or the other show for next September, or are on the cusp of doing so.

One is cerebral, quick-witted and gives off a cool, wry vibe; the other is a down-and-dirty talker who is convinced he can turn dysfunctional lives around.

Anderson, which is short for CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, has already been cleared in most all of the country; The Jeremy Kyle Show, which features the aforesaid (but largely unknown here) Kyle tackling all sorts of toxic topics, is tracking at 75% and is working to reach 80%-85% by close of NATPE on Wednesday.

Anderson is, broadly speaking, in the Oprah and Ellen vein and is in fact selling generally to stations which do well with such shows; Kyle is in the Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, Steve Welkos mold and is, not surprisingly, being picked up by stations which air such confrontational fare.

Anderson has made his name as the anchor of one of CNN's flagship shows, covering most of the big stories of the day and putting himself squarely in harm's way when necessary. (Nonetheless, he'll have to avoid the pitfall of other newsies, several of whom did not make the transition to syndication: think Today Show darling Jane Pauley, who crashed and burned in firstrun more than a decade ago.)

Kyle made his name first in radio before rising meteorically in Britain to become after one year the top-rated talker in that country, with a 30% share on ITV. Now in his sixth year on air in the U.K., even Parliament refers in shorthand to "the Jeremy Kyle generation" when they talk about people whose lives need to be improved in their country. (Kyle will have to avoid the pitfall of many yapping pretenders to the Povich/Springer throne who have fallen unceremoniously by the wayside in the last 15 years.)

Neither personality relishes being compared to the other, and each is pretty much set to come out of his corner and fight for position in the fierce firstrun fray. (Interestingly, both will keep their day jobs in that Cooper will continue to do his CNN news show and Kyle will continue to tape his British talker, commuting back and forth to NY for U.S. taping.)

Cooper is backed by the syndie powerhouse, Warner Bros.' Telepictures unit, which has launched dozens of successful shows including the current firstrun hit Ellen -- and knows a thing or two about how to tweak and stick with a show until it catches on.

In the other corner is Kyle, who is backed by the most dynamic indie in the syndie biz, Debmar-Mercury, whose principals, Ira Bernstein and Mort Marcus, are betting their import can have just as great an impact here as back in Britain.

With Oprah leaving the afternoon fray, there is arguably room for a new voice in that mix that currently includes Ellen, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz.

Anderson told THR he hopes to be "transformational and emotional" in his approach to the stories the show focuses on.

"It'll mostly be about the real people behind the big stories," he says, and it'll be "informative and entertaining" at the same time.

"I'll be showing more sides of myself than what is evident on CNN," Cooper says. That includes a lot of pop culture topics and the inevitable celebrity interview now and again.

TelePictures president Hilary Estey-McLoughlin, says in the post-Oprah world it's all about finding the right talent that resonates and she is convinced Cooper will. (She also says she's close to naming an executive producer for the show, which will likely tape in a real theater rather than a studio in NYC.)

Marcus feels the same upbeat way about Kyle. "He's got what it takes and he's a proven commodity. He may be the first British transplant talk show host but he follows other British talents in other genres who have made the leap -- Simon Cowell, Gordon Ramsey, Craig Ferguson and now Piers Morgan."

Kyle himself insists his formula for success depends on "being honest with guests on the show and saying it like it is."

So. How low will he go? "There'll be no throwing chairs but it is no-holds-barred. It's not going to be a circus though and the after-care component is crucial for me."

Kyle pointed out that the equivalent service in the U.K. has helped, for example, some 300 addicts of one kind or another go through detox.

"Finding out the guests' issues, stripping them down, and putting them back together is what I do. Getting at the conflict and pulling no punches is what makes for entertainment. The conflict resolution, and helping them to a better outcome, is what makes the whole thing worthwhile."

"Obviously, the biz needs new talent to freshen the firstrun fray. Until shows launch, though, however talented the host is and however seasoned the syndicator, the jury is out. Will either or both these new gabbers work? Too early to say. It's up to the viewers. And they're mostly female, and hard to fathom," said one programming consultant, who has seen both presentations but adamantly refused to prognosticate.

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