Soledad O’Brien on her return to CNN mornings: ‘Absolutely, positively everything is different’

By Chris Ariens Comment

The least of Soledad O’Brien’s concerns as she returns to anchoring CNN mornings: that early alarm clock. “I already get up that early,” says O’Brien. “I have four kids. Four kids who all put themselves to bed, brush their teeth. I had my twins when I was doing ‘American Morning.'”

That was in 2004. And that’s not all that’s different this time around.

“Absolutely, positively everything is different,” says O’Brien, who will lead an ensemble of contributors for the second two hours (7-9amET) of CNN’s revamped four-hour morning show, debuting in January.

We talked with O’Brien this morning not long after CNN announced the changes.

TVNewser: You’ve been on the record saying you were fired from the morning show the first time around in 2007, what’s different this time?

O’Brien: Everything is different. The format is different. I think the landscape of mornings is different. I’ve spent the last five years doing something very different [reporting documentaries for CNN’s In America series]. My style of interviewing is different. Absolutely, positively everything is different.

TVNewser: Ken Jautz has said he wants the morning block to “complement our direction in primetime.” What do you take that to mean?

O’Brien: Well, I think Ken Jautz wants this morning show to do well (laughter). We all do. We want to do a really strong, smart show that people are proud of. The kind of show that gets people to say: ’I can’t wait to watch it tomorrow.’

TVNewser: You’ve got strong competitors on Fox, MSNBC even HLN. How is your show going to be different from those?

O’Brien: I think that what we will do is cover a wide range of topics. Talk about stories that aren’t always covered on the news and dig down a little deeper. And bring on real people and contributors, who are involved in these stories. It’s what we’ve been doing with the documentaries … find a compelling story, tell that story and surround it with people who can add to it.

TVNewser: And who are you thinking for contributors?

O’Brien: I know people off the top of my head. I won’t name names. It will be smart interesting people who can add to the story. The kind of people who you’d want to sit down and have brunch with … who can argue with me over a point. Someone who’s going to have a great depth of knowledge on a broad range of topics.

TVNewser: Ten hours a week in the anchor chair may not leave a lot of time for documentaries… how many do you think you can produce in a year?

O’Brien: That’s a great question. Now that I’ve done 25, we know how to do them. It depends on where the story is. When we did the Ground Zero doc, I was able to zip downtown and still grab my kids from school. It depends where they. I think you can do one maybe two. I think three is a stretch.

TVNewser: I heard the deal was only done on Tuesday. What else is in it for you? Production deal, something like that?

O’Brien: Really? You think I should have asked for that? (laughter) It’s always just a matter of what we want and what they want and come to an agreement. I’ve worked at CNN a long time and we just all decided that what we’ve done with the documentaries can translate in the morning.

TVNewser: When you hear “conversational ensemble program” viewers might hear: “talking heads.” How will you balance the need for news and information and the analysis of that news?

O’Brien: I don’t think talking head. What we can do in the morning is take an issue …. education, for example. Find actual parents and actual teachers and experts who have concepts and ideas for solutions.

TVNewser: Are you ready for that early alarm clock?

O’Brien: You know what’s so funny. I already get up that early. I have four kids [ages 10, 9 and 7]. Four kids who all put themselves to bed, brush their teeth. I had my twins [Charlie and Jackson] when I was doing “American Morning,” and I’d wake up, spend some time with them and then hand them off to [husband] Brad. So I’m not worried about that this time.

TVNewser: Do you have ideas for a name of the show?

O’Brien: We’ve talked about it. But I don’t want to say anything too soon. We’ll pick a name and then we’ll announce it. I learned that with baby names, tell no one!