Ratings will tell if Cooper can fill Oprah’s shoes

On Monday, Chicagoans got their first taste of what has been pegged as a different Anderson Cooper.  This is supposed to be the Cooper who hopes to fill — at least partially — the big shoes left empty when Oprah Winfrey departed the talk show circuit in May after an impressive 25-year run.

Let’s put it this way:  Cooper will be very lucky indeed if he comes remotely close to matching Winfrey’s track record in this department.

Those TV viewers expecting to see something markedly new and startling in Cooper’s debut as host of his own daytime talk show were no doubt roundly disappointed.

During his much-ballyhooed debut on Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 at 2 p.m., Cooper was, for the most part, the same old Anderson Cooper we’ve seen squinting out at us (almost glaring) for years during his “360” evening newscast and commentary on CNN, which has been roundly losing to archival cable channel Fox News in the lucrative prime time ratings race.

In pre-debut interviews, Cooper kept emphasizing his new daytime talk fest would expose facets of him heretofore unrevealed.  But if that is in fact going to prove true, Cooper’s will have to dig much deeper and show more of his surprising stuff than was on view Monday.

The fact of the matter is Cooper isn’t especially great at  interviewing guests (particularly those with whom he has no history).
Oh he can get confrontational all right (as we’ve seen on numerous occasions on his evening CNN show), even though that doesn’t always yield the results Cooper no doubt might have wanted.  And Cooper can camp it up with the best of them — though it’s an oddly-subdued style of camp.

But when he has to tread carefully — as he did on his talk show debut —  Cooper tends to turn annoyingly mushy in a way that makes him appear almost shy and painfully ineffective.

No news revealed in interview with Winehouse’s parents

Cooper tried to make a splash on Monday by being the first TV newsman/talk show host to do a formal sit-down with the parents of beloved singer Amy Winehouse, who died nearly two months ago in her London apartment.

The exact cause of Winehouse’s death won’t be definitively determined until toxicology reports are completed next month.  Even so, that didn’t stop Cooper from trying to make the cause of the singer’s death the centerpiece of his chat with Winehouse’s parents (now divorced).

But it was a lot of chat for naught really, because all the parents could do was speculate.

Winehouse’s father, Mitch, was happy enough to oblige Cooper by stating he believed Winehouse died from a seizure caused by her binge drinking — something she had not forsaken, apparently, along with the hard drugs she had once used to excess.

Absent any hard news about the cause of Winehouse’s death, Cooper was left to mine the parents’ sorrow over the premature loss of their beloved daughter.  It worked for about eight minutes.  After that, because Cooper seemed to have nowhere to go with the interview, things began to drag badly.

There were plenty of other kinks in the show.  The producers displayed an exasperating tendency to break up the flow repeatedly with video clips of Winehouse that were grainy and hugely lacking in impact.

We’re not sure whether Cooper’s interaction with the audience near the end of the hour will be a regular feature,  but his feeble attempt to bond with the studio crowd just made the whole hour seem even more unfocused.

Studio sign is very distracting, but New York skyline works

And something has to be done about that two-toned sign displaying Cooper’s name placed VERY conspicuously in the middle of the studio audience.

Whenever the camera cut to a wide audience shot, we kept wondering whether the lighting had malfunctioned on half the large letters, or whether it was just an awkward, ill-considered design decision.  Fix the sign.  Or better yet, drop it. 

But the choice of the dramatic New York City skyline as the backdrop for the show is inspired — even though the setting manages to overpower most of what is happening on the stage that Cooper is supposed to be commanding.

It will be interesting to see if Cooper’s new show can spark some respectable ratings for local outlet WFLD/32, which has been struggling mightily to make a mark in the ratings with its morning and late news products.

Cooper is, alas, an east Coast Product  — someone who probably does not immediately resonate with most Midwesterners. But enough speculation.  Let’s let the ratings tell us how he’s doing.

Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com