Can celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain save CNN?
Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper aren't exactly known for cursing and boozing, so when CNN announced this week that it was hiring profane hedonist Anthony Bourdain as a host, the news came as something of a surprise. The celebrity chef — whose loyal following enjoys watching him devour animal parts, guzzle alcohol, and pontificate on everything from Lebanese politics to Chicago hot dogs — will host a weekend travel show on CNN in 2013. Bourdain has hosted The Travel Channel's popular No Reservations since 2005 (the show will not be renewed after this season), and CNN is clearly hoping his brash approach can help reverse a bad slide in ratings. Can Bourdain work his magic at CNN?
Bourdain is the centerpiece of CNN's restructuring: Bourdain is set to "become the marquee personality in CNN's efforts to broaden its lifestyle programming," says Marisa Guthrie at The Hollywood Reporter. While he might appear an odd fit for the news channel, "traveling to war- and disaster-torn locales has become a Bourdain signature," most notably when his film crew got stuck in Lebanon during its 2006 war against Israel. Bourdain will also be a contributor on other CNN programs, suggesting that he might help shape the channel's news operations.
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But Bourdain can't help CNN where it's hurting most: Bourdain can't shore up CNN's real weakness — the fact that rival Fox and MSNBC hosts dominate the weekday primetime slots, says Joe Pompeo at Capital. CNN's primetime slate "has been in ratings freefall for the past several years and recently hit a two-decade low." And while primetime advertising represents only a fraction of CNN's revenues, "the network is under pressure from its parent company, Time Warner, to turn the slump around."
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And CNN could ruin Bourdain: Given the "sucking power" of CNN, "it's far more likely that CNN will ruin Bourdain than [that] Bourdain will save the network from stagnation," says Drew Magary at Gawker. It's still unclear whether the buttoned-down network will "allow Bourdain to drink absinthe on camera, or shoot a pig in backwater Louisiana, or any of the other naughty things that make him a compelling TV personality." If his CNN job "results in less eating and more time hanging out with Sean Penn in Haiti," then Bourdain is in really big trouble.
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