CNN's Chris Cuomo Returns to 'Primetime,' But Not Forever (Q&A)

Chris Cuomo - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Turner Broadcasting

The host will remain a presence in the mornings while he spends four weeks at 9 p.m.

Three days before he returned to the 9 p.m. hour on CNN, Chris Cuomo posted a video on Instagram of him doing doughnuts in a parking lot after church and let his followers know that he'd had a revelation about his new, temporary show, which comes on top of the three hours he spends in the morning co-anchoring New Day with Alisyn Camerota.

"At first I was like: too much work," Cuomo wrote. "But then I was watching at night and I heard someone say that a a position needed to be tested, and I realized — that’s what I do! So, I figured that’s exactly the chance I want: to work hard doing something that matters even if it means less sleep."

Cuomo, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, said he's excited to spend four weeks trying to "test power" in the one-on-one interview format he loves. He might be the only one, but Cuomo said he expects President Trump to sit for an interview on CNN this year. Between his contacts in the White House and his family's history with the Trumps, Cuomo thinks he's the one to land it.

Cuomo said that "all comers are welcome" to his new show, including Stephen Miller, the controversial White House aide who reportedly was escorted off-set on Sunday after a testy interview with Cuomo's colleague, Jake Tapper. "If I were doing it tonight, I would tell Stephen Miller, 'You know, you want to come on, get after it, let's get after it.'" (But he said it might be up to the bosses.)

Cuomo also defended his lengthy history of interviewing counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, who he said is a personal friend. "I get that there are personality traits or whatever with Kellyanne that may spark certain criticism from people of a particular political perception," he said. "But that's not my problem. She's relevant, and as long as she's respectful to the dialogue, she's welcome to be on the show."

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What's your hope for the new show?

It will be refreshing and different. Because that's not really a lot of what you see at night on cable. There's a lot of pandering, there's a lot of punditry. A lot of panels. And I'd like to avoid all of those ....

Are you interested in having a primetime show long-term? Is this a trial run?

To me, I have no ambition beyond what I'm doing right now. I'm happy to have the opportunity. I think I'll be able to handle both for the duration of this. And that's good enough for me.

Is your goal to only bring on guests who are willing to engage in substantive, good-faith conversations, rather than just going for viral moments?

I think theatricality and hyper-emotiveness is a sugar high and doesn't work for me on television. I will generate plenty of buzz by bringing back into focus the most valued commodity in our business, which is the one-on-one interview. Mano a mano, me and you, hopefully face to face. Lay out what you believe, and I test it at once. I think that is not just the best position for a journalist to be in but it is the best position for a guest to be in. ... And I argue this about the president all the time, and why I want him to come on the show again. He's his best advocate. He is best when tested. No surrogate can do for him what he can do for himself.

Do you think Trump will come on CNN this year?


Who is most likely to book him?

Me. I am. 

How will you make that happen?

I am constantly offering invitations for him to come on and make the case that I have just made to you. If the president wants to defend himself, his administration, his agenda, against anything, he is best served doing it himself. ... You have to give some respect and credibility to the idea that he knows how to make a case to people because he's now president of the United States.

He obviously enjoys talking to the media and being on TV. My sense is that he'd probably be doing more interviews if he were making his own booking decisions.

I think the idea that anybody is telling him what to do, or that he's not doing anything because he's being prohibited, is untrue. One of the ironies is that I have a ton of connections and good sources in this White House, personal and professional. ... The families have known each other for a long time. I've dealt with him for a very long time, on and off camera.

Did you read the new Michael Wolff book? What did you think of it?

I'm about half through. Is that right? I'm about 40 percent through. None of it is new to me. I find some of it interesting. I think he did open himself up to a certain kind of criticism, but that criticism isn't new either, to those who know what Michael Wolff does and has done in the past. ... I think what is unusual ... is the response. ... This White House, this president, just doesn't seem to get that they control the cycle, and they/he insist on driving controversy in the vain effort to control it. And it doesn't work.

Some conservative media personalities, like Fox News' Tucker Carson and Bill O'Reilly, have questioned why Trump threatened a lawsuit over the book. They think he just drew more attention to the book.

They give him cover by disingenuously attacking the media for doing its job. They are pandering to a very specific audience that is now called "the base," where they are attacking the media for doing its job because they have skin in the game, in terms of wanting a conservative agenda discussed, wanting it seen in glowing terms. So, they are not fair brokers of what's going on. And that's OK. The media has room for everybody. They're pundits, not journalists, and that's what they do.

You worked at Fox News. How do you think they've covered the first year of the administration?

They've made a very obvious choice about what they want to do. And MSNBC has made an obvious choice as well. And they are within their rights to do that, and the audience gets to decide. That's the beautiful thing about this business. ... Everybody's got to make their choices. You decide to work where you feel you're best suited to doing the job the way you want to do it. That's why I came to CNN. I had a great gig at ABC News — great people, loved the work. But I wasn't able to do what I would be able to do here. I didn't know Trump was coming. I didn't know how super relevant we would be. And how important testing would be. But I got lucky in that regard, I suppose.

You said you would still have Stephen Miller on your show, even after what happened with Tapper. Why?

Whoever is relevant, I want on the show. In the moment, people who matter, that's when you want them. ... If I were doing it tonight, I would tell Stephen Miller, 'You know, you want to come on, get after it, let's get after it.' Anybody around the president who's close and can speak to his state of mind about what's going on is fine. ...

Yeah, I don't have any problem with that. I mean, obviously some of these considerations are going to be up to the bosses, about their own standards of what kind of decorum and behavior is expected of a guest on television. But if it were up to me, I'm fine. If he doesn't want to answer the questions, then he's going to have to answer for that. ....

Jake has every right to set standards of what he wants out of his guests on his own show. He knows what he's doing. He's a very smart guy. He's done this a long time.