Soledad O'Brien on Leaving CNN Mornings: 'I Will Not Miss Getting Up Early'

The "Starting Point" anchor tells THR her show was understaffed and lacked promotion, the story behind her new production company's name, and that she's "absolutely" willing to take an on-air role at another network.
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Soledad O'Brien is parting ways with CNN as a Starting Point anchor and will instead deal with the network as a partner in production of documentaries. She won't mind her new schedule. 

"I will not miss getting up that early, I cannot lie, not for a minute," she says, laughing, in an interview on Thursday with The Hollywood Reporter.

The former NBC News anchor is still proud of her work in the early shift on CNN -- because even though the show didn't receive "a ton of support and didn’t get a ton of marketing and a ton of promotions," it was able to drive stories throughout the 2012 election. 

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"We had a staff of people, we never were fully staffed, where we were able to -- in spite of not getting a lot of support -- really make our show relevant," she explains. "To do that, that was pretty tremendous."

As far as appearing on-camera on other networks in a reporting capacity in the future, O'Brien seems open to the idea.

"I certainly could, I have not specifically taken any questions about that. No one has asked me to do that," she says. "And right now I would love to get what I’m doing [her production company] underway, but I think it’s an interesting thing to do. It would really, again, depend on what the offer is ... Theoretically, absolutely."

On Thursday -- in the wake of reports that O'Brien might leave as CNN president Jeff Zucker retooled the morning programming line-up -- the network announced a partnership with the anchor to produce and air documentaries in 2014.

The announcement included a new company, Starfish Media Group, to produce long-form content for other networks and partners. O'Brien describes the venture as a way to produce programming that looks at "under-the-radar" stories and sparks a conversation through thorough reporting.  

“We will produce movie-of-the-weeks, we’ll produce films, we’ll produce scripted TV, non-scripted TV, documentaries, curriculum, public events," O'Brien tells THR. "The idea is to get some of these stories that fly under-the-radar to be the focus of a conversation, and we can sort of take a brand that’s been very successful and leverage that a bit."

"It’s less about quote-unquote serious journalism and more about digging in deep into an interesting story so that people can really understand" in a 360-degree way, she says.

The company will produce a Black in America documentary that will be shown on CNN in 2013 and continue with a Latino in America doc production. The agreement with CNN is nonexclusive, meaning O'Brien will be "looking at a bunch of different partnerships, and not only networks but other producing partners," she explains.

The anchor says the scale of her new company -- how many documentaries it produces -- is to be determined. 

"That's going to depend on what kind of partnerships we have and the scale of those partnerships," she notes. "Some people have talked to me about syndication; that might be something to consider. Other people have talked to me about going back to anchor a show, which feels a little too soon for me, but that might be something to consider down the road. I think all of those can be platforms for the kinds of conversation and partnership that we want to have."

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When asked about the name of her company, Starfish Media Group, O'Brien mentions that it reflects a central theme of her Haiti documentary.

A missionary in the country told her the story of a boy walking on a beach with starfish left in the sand, away from the sea. He starts to save the starfish, but is confronted by a man who questions his motives -- why save the starfish, when it doesn't really matter? "The kid picks up a starfish and throws it back into the water and says, 'Well, I guess it mattered to this one,'" O'Brien explains.

The anchor adds that her production company will similarly "tell those individual stories that matter, that often don’t get covered."