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

Soledad O’Brien - Head Shot - The Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation - P - 2011
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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."

Email: erik.hayden@thr.com