Anderson's Cooper's syndicated daytime talk show opened strong Monday with the CNN host interviewing family and friends of singer Amy Winehose who died in July.
He got the first interview with Mitch and Janis Winehouse, the singer's father and mother, and even made a little news with what they said -- that their daughter died of a siezure brought on by trying to detox from alcohol, not from a drug overdose.
"She'd been clean for about three years," Mitch Winehouse said of his daughter's drug history. "Her problem was alcohol, the last few years of her life."
He told Cooper: "She had a series of seizures brought on by this binge drinking and then stopping to drink... I think she had a seizure, and this was the time when there was no one there to rescue her."
Cooper is an excellent interviewer, and he struck just about the perfect tone of empathy for the parents and their late daughter balanced by a journalist's desire to try and establish some facts in a story steeped in emotion, rumor and speculation.
We'll have to wait for a final report on what was or wasn't found in the body of Amy Winehouse, but I do feel like I have a much better grounding in both her life and death after Cooper's interview.
On the other hand, I am judging Cooper's performance Monday by journalistic standards, and I am not sure those values have a lot to do with success in daytime television. I'm not saying they don't, I'm just saying I am not sure they do.
And here is why I am hanging back a beat or two in predicting instant and absolute success for Cooper in daytime. I can't tell you what the winning formula is for daytime TV, but I do know it involves creating a sense of community among the TV audience, studio audience and host. People who watch at home have to believe that host cares about them and that when they turn on the TV, they are entering into a kind of caring conversation. Oprah, of course, worked the formula as well as it could be worked. "Ellen" does it pretty well, too.
And Cooper seems to understand that he will have to go way warmer and more personal than he has ever gone on his CNN show or CBS' "60 Minutes." Viewers got a glimpse of him moving in that direction when he talked about the suicide of his brother.
But I have to say that two interactions he had with audience members felt a little stiff. In one, he hugged a 19-year-old woman after she tearfully testified to the defining role Winehouse played in her life. In the other instance, he reached out an gave the hand of a mother who lost her son to drugs an empathetic squeeze.
But his movements seemed self-conscious rather than Oprah-spontaneous. And why not? He's a journalist, and hugging and squeezing are not part of the socialization process for serious, maintream journalists. I would suspect this is going to be the hardest part of daytime for Cooper to get right, given who and what he has to be five nights a week for CNN.
Can he do it?
I do not know. But it is going to be fascinating to watch him try. And if he pulls it off, I think it could be a boon for his prime-time ratings on CNN.
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