What Kind of Anchorman Will Jake Tapper Be? ‘They Don’t Want Me to be Ron Burgundy’

By Gail Shister 

Former ABC ace Jake Tapper, who debuted on CNN Tuesday, says that his being passed over — twice — as ‘This Week’ anchor was not the reason he left the network.

When ABC chose CNN’s Christiane Amanpour for ‘This Week’ in 2010, “obviously I had a degree of disappointment, “ Tapper says, “but it wasn’t as though they were putting Mario Lopez in there. Christiane’s a legend.”

Less than 18 months later, when George Stephanopoulos returned to ‘This Week’– again, no hard feelings, Tapper insists. “It’s George’s show. It was logical for him to want to do it. He’s also a journalistic legend.”


What did it for Tapper was his own weekday show at CNN, most likely to launch in March or April, in addition to being named Chief Washington Correspondent. New CNN Worldwide boss Jeff Zucker made the offer over breakfast last month at a secret undisclosed location in New York.

Tapper, in Philadelphia Thursday to promote his new book, ‘The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,’ says he expects to take over the 4 p.m. hour currently occupied by Wolf Blitzer’s ‘Situation Room.’ Blitzer will be cut back to 5 to 7 p.m.

If all goes well, could this be a prelude to Tapper breaking into the prime-time lineup?

“It’s a little premature, but anything’s possible,” he explains. “Jeff says he wants to do a lot of different things. Everything’s on the table. But maybe 4 p.m. will ultimately be a great place to be. It’s when viewers start getting serious about news. It’s valuable real estate.”

It’s also the first show for Tapper, 43, who as ABC’s Senior White House Correspondent became known for his confrontational style at press briefings. In his new milieu, he expects to be “a little looser.”

“The show shouldn’t just be a quote, unquote Serious Anchorman feeding you your Brussels sprouts. It needs to be engaging, with some humor, some back and forth, some compelling dialogue with newsmakers.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be a limit to Tapper’s trademark glibness. “CNN wants me to tell the news in a way that seems genuine and authentic,” he says. “They don’t want me to be Ron Burgundy,” a reference to Will Ferrell’s loopy character in 2004’s ‘Anchorman’ and its upcoming sequel.

Tapper reached out to two former ABC colleagues for advice, Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer. Gibson, in Tapper’s words, advised him “to make the show as collaborative as possible, on and off the air.” For Sawyer, it was ensuring that viewers “understand how the news affects them.”

Tapper had almost a full month off before setting up shop in John King’s former office. (As a housewarming gift, King left a bottle of Johnny Walker Black on the desk.)

Tapper’s last on-air appearance at ABC was Dec. 20. He couldn’t step foot inside CNN, however, until his contract expired, on Tuesday. During the interim, he took a family vacation to the Virgin Islands, read a lot and played “many, many” games of Hide-and-Seek with his five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.

Speaking of Tapper’s kids, they didn’t have much of a reaction when told about Dad’s nifty new job.

“They think everybody’s dad is on TV, and everybody’s dad knows President Obama,” says Tapper. “That’s where their world is right now.”