What Happened to CNN’s Planet In Peril?

By Alex Weprin Comment

TurnerCNN.jpgCNN founder Ted Turner spoke to Wolf Blitzer in “The Situation Room” yesterday, and “The CNN Situation” came up in conversation.

Turner didn’t have much new to say, noting that he would “like to see a little more international news” on the channel, echoing points he made in an interview with Bloomberg last October.

But he also said he was disappointed that the network shuttered its space, science and environmental unit in December, 2008.

I didn’t like that [CNN] disbanded the environmental unit. I think the environment is one of the two or three biggest stories of our time, and I think you need a unit that is concentrating on it and really knows what’s going on. I think the environmental coverage that they do is good, but they are doing it mostly with regular reporters because they don’t have the environmental unit anymore.

When the unit was shut down, a CNN spokesperson told TVNewser:

Now that the bulk of our environmental coverage is offered through the Planet in Peril franchise, which is part of the AC360 program, there is no need for a separate unit

There was just one problem: the last original installment of “Planet in Peril” ran on CNN a week after the department was shut down, on Dec. 11, 2008. Since then there was UN Climate Summit (and “Climate Gate”), earthquakes that ravaged Haiti and Chile, a volcano erupting in Iceland, flooding in Nashville and of course a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. All topics that would be ripe for examination in an in-depth environmental series.

So what happened to the well regarded documentary series?

planet-in-peril.jpgMultiple sources familiar with the matter say that “Planet in Peril” was a pet project of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who felt strongly that the network should be covering science and the environment. The problem is that filming the multi-hour documentary series–often in hard to reach corners of the globe–was expensive and kept Cooper away from the studio and off the air more than the network would have liked.

With the series not drawing high enough ratings to demand another new installment, CNN put it on the shelf.

A spokesperson for the network released the following statement to TVNewser:

Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta continue to report on environmental issues as the news merits, including most recently, the oil spill in the gulf and flooding in Nashville. “AC 360°” also does a weekly segment called “One Simple Thing,” focusing on conservation issues.

In addition, Gupta has a two night environmental documentary and special coming in June, “Toxic America,” which is a year long investigation into toxic chemicals and public health.

As Turner noted, Cooper and Gupta have been doing an admirable job covering the current crisis, but there is no doubt that CNN would benefit from having a dedicated environmental unit with producers knowledgeable about the science of natural disasters. A unit similar to the one that was disbanded in 2008 because “Planet in Peril” made them superfluous, before “PiP” became superfluous itself.