Soledad O'Brien to Anchor CNN's New Morning Show

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NEW YORK – Soledad O’Brien returns to morning duty at CNN anchoring the 7-9 a.m. hours beginning in early 2012. The long-rumored move was made official Thursday morning by CNN; in a release the company described O’Brien’s show as a “conversational ensemble program that explores top issues of the day while opening the conversation to people from all walks of life.”

There was no word on who will join O’Brien as part of that ensemble. But Ashleigh Banfield – formerly of ABC News – and Chicago news personality Zoraida Sambolin will co-anchor the 5-7 a.m. hours.

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O’Brien has been anchoring long-from programming on CNN including the Black in America and Latino in America series.

In a statement announcing the moves, O’Brien said she welcomes the “opportunity to give voice to people who aren’t often heard, and the stories that are sometimes overlooked.”

CNN executive vp Ken Jautz added that the network is “planning to offer something original in the four-hour morning block to complement our direction in primetime.”

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In August, CNN shifted Anderson Cooper 360, it's top-rated program, to 8 p.m. and last month bowed a new program hosted by Erin Burnett at 7 p.m. Former NBC News Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker joined CNN as executive vp and managing editor last January.

The new morning lineup scraps American Morning, which has seen a jumble of co-hosts over the years. Ali Velshi, Christine Romans and Carol Costello have been helming the show since Kiran Chetry left last summer. Chetry’s co-host John Roberts jumped to Fox News in December 2010.

Velshi, who joined the network as a business reporter, will stay on at CNN. He’ll anchor CNN International’s World Business Today, on which he has often appeared. And he'll continue to host weekend show Your Money on CNN. He’ll also launch “signature segments” for CNN’s domestic channel, said the network. Romans and Costello also will stay on at CNN.

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American Morning has been an also ran in the cable news morning race. It's well behind No. 1 morning show Fox & Friends as well as MSNBC’s Morning Joe. And it is often bested by Morning Express with Robin Meade on sister network HLN.

Shannon High will executive produce both morning programs. She comes to CNN from NBC’s Peacock Productions. Before that she was a development executive at MSNBC where she helped to create Dylan Ratigan’s show and oversaw Morning Joe and daytime news.

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