David Zurawik

Chris Cuomo on why he's right for mornings on CNN's 'New Day'

Chris Cuomo, one of the hosts of "New Day," sounds like someone who has thought a lot about his TV image and what he's getting into as the point man to make mornings matter at CNN.

"When I was on the morning show, I had a pretty good amount of success, and I became fairly popular there in the morning," Cuomo says of the job he held as news anchor for ABC's "Good Morning America" from 2006 to 2009.


"And I always felt, and what I heard from people, was that the popularity had come from the right reason," he continued. "I'm not the warmest and fuzziest; that's not who I am. That's not why I am on television. What it is is that I really care about what I do. I love to fight the good fight for people. I feel that it is needed, and it's why I stay in the business. It's why I came into the business.

"I was practicing law. I was doing well. I was working in finance. It was going even better. I like the opportunity, the sense of purpose, the responsibility of taking up for people the causes that matter."


So, how does that mesh with the sensibility of morning TV?

"In the morning, even though it gets hit with the dumbstick in terms of what kind of television and news it is, I disagree and here's why," the 42-year-old son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo says. "People only get one opportunity to wake up in the morning. It is a more intimate setting. They're busy, but they are open to you in their homes in a different way than in other broadcast dayparts and different platforms.

"They are looking for you to care about them. They are looking for you to ask what they can't: Hold people accountable; make it uncomfortable. Sometimes it works for you; sometimes it works against you. But they [viewers] really want it. And I love giving them that. It is my passion in the business. People get that feeling from me as a reporter, as an advocate for people. I think that's what matters most. That's what I bring to the morning. That's why I want to be in the morning.

"So, yeah, I worry about all the different constraints [of the medium], how you look, and how you come across, and it's always so important in the morning. But at the end of the day, I think the sell is the genuineness and the authenticity of what brings you to the job."

Genuineness and authenticity are not the first two adjectives that come to my mind when I think about the many on-air figures I have covered over the years.

And while I would like to believe Cuomo's hypothesis about morning TV, I have to say that Matt Lauer never struck me for two seconds as authentic or genuine, and he was pretty successful before his and NBC's Ann Curry debacle.

On the other hand, Charlie Rose seems pretty authentic, and his CBS morning show is still a deep third behind ABC and NBC.

But NBC, CBS and ABC are not the primary competition for Cuomo and his morning partners Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira as they make their debut today as CNN President Jeff Zucker's highest-visibility remake at CNN. Goal One for them in terms of ratings is to make inroads into the cable competition of "Fox & Friends" on Fox News and "Morning Joe" with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC.


I suppose you could think of Steve Doocy, one of the trio of hosts on "Fox & Friends," as authentic -- an authentically stupid and rabid right-wind ideologue. He probably does, though, come across as a genuine true believer to many Fox morning show viewers, so maybe his success supports Cuomo's hypothesis.

Mika and Joe? I don't know how genuine or authentic they play in American living rooms, but they do have chemistry like almost no one else on morning TV. Now if only they weren't on such a sinking ship of a channel -- the one no one in American wakes up to because MSNBC prime-time hosts like Chris Hayes drove them away the night before.

My interview with Cuomo was part of a three-way telephone conversation with him, Bolduan and senior executive producer Jim Murphy. I like talking to EPs like Murphy even when they try to control and dominate the conversation, as Murphy did. I like talking to them, because most EPs are really smart, and Murphy is no exception. But that's what EPs do, isn't it? Control and dominate and act like they are smarter than everyone else. That's part of the job description.

But in between Murphy's attempts to control the interview, I did get a glimpse of what might be some genuine chemistry between Bolduan and Cuomo.

Right after Cuomo said he's not the "warmest and fuzziest," adding, "that's not who I am and that's not why I got on television," Bolduan interjected with, "Yeah, you just skated along on your good looks, exactly."

"Yes, I am ridiculously handsome," he countered without missing a beat. And then, he dove back into wanting to be an advocate for things that matter to viewers.


The thing is I'm not sure if he was being authentic and genuine in mocking his TV good looks.

And as much as I hate to say it, I'm still thinking TV good looks might count more than "authenticity" and "genuineness" by a long shot everywhere on TV -- as well as in the larger culture.