If Anderson Cooper were a car, he’d be a classic American convertible.
“Maybe it’s the silver hair. Maybe it’s the kind of work he does. I don’t think he’d be a Porsche,” says Jim Murphy, executive producer of Cooper’s upcoming daytime show. “He’s going to cover a lot of space and be very open to people watching.”
Murphy knows about covering space. Prior to joining ABC in 2006 as senior executive producer of ABC’s ‘Good Morning America,’ he did two e.p. stints at CBS, with ‘Evening News’ under Dan Rather, then Bob Schieffer; and ‘CBS This Morning.’
Murphy jumps to the syndicated ‘Anderson’ in mid-March. The talk show launches Sept. 12, replacing Oprah Winfrey in some markets. (No pressure.)
Though Murphy and Cooper barely know each other, in Murphy’s words, they have several mutual friends. “The funny thing is, they’ve said to both of us over the years that we’d make a really good team,” Murphy says. “I’ve admired the guy for a hell of a long time.”
As it turns out, the timing was perfect. Murphy, who turned 50 last year, was burning out and needed a change. He went to new ABC News president Ben Sherwood, who had been Murphy’s predecessor on ‘GMA.’
“I was honest with him and he was honest with me,” Murphy says. “Morning TV is very hard, very competitive, very high pressure. You can only do this job for a certain amount of time – it’s definitely like dog years.
“This [‘Anderson’] was out there. Nothing else at ABC was as interesting or challenging. We agreed to part amicably.” Murphy was released from the remainder of his contract.
Given that Cooper will continue his nightly show at CNN as well as his occasional pieces for CBS’s ’60 Minutes,’ the big question is this: What happens to ‘Anderson’ when Cooper is called away for big breaking news anywhere on the planet?
“When there’s a huge breaking story, I’m sure there will be priorities,” says Murphy, adding that he’d only had the job for 48 hours. “We’ll take care of it.”
While Cooper’s reputation is in prime time, he’s perfect for daytime, too, according to Murphy, who shares the e.p. title with the star. “He has a sensibility where he brings information, storytelling, and empathy to topics he’s really interested in. It’s incredibly appealing to… the audience that watches daytime TV.”
At this point, Murphy has few details on format, though he acknowledges (obliquely) that the show may be positioned as an Oprah replacement. Winfrey “has been the gold standard in American talk TV for the last 30 years. I’d like to do something that she would like.
“It won’t be straight talk. We’ll use all the tricks of the trade. We’ll shoot stuff. We’ll go places. We’ll show the audience that Anderson is a great person to hang out with for an hour a day.” Will it be live? “We’re still discussing that,” Murphy says.
It’s risky to leave an established show on a network for a new program in syndication, but Murphy has never been afraid to roll the dice.
“I wouldn’t take the risk without believing in the project,” he says. “The second I heard that Anderson was going to do this show, I thought it was a gig I would really enjoy. There’s no guarantee it will work; that the economic model won’t change again.
“I’m not afraid of taking chances. When you look at my career, it’s usually worked out pretty well. When I joined ‘Siskel/Ebert’ as director [in 1988], I had never worked as a director in my life.”
Five years later, when he left to become a segment producer with CBS’s morning show, “I had no idea where it would lead,” he says. “I could have stayed in Chicago and had a nice, comfortable life for a long time. I went back to news because I was missing a lot of things I cared about. I was depressed when I didn’t go to Berlin for the fall of the wall.”
And, of course, there’s no guarantee he won’t hear the same siren song.
“I may go back to news somewhere down the road,” Murphy says. “I might miss it again.”