Aaron Brown's prime presence
Terrorist attacks obscure launch of CNN's new 10 p.m. newscast that chairman considers crucial for the network
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/25/2001 7:00:00 PM
CNN's Aaron Brown thinks his newscast is good enough to make people watch the news twice.
"The way it's written or the way a story is told is going to be significantly different from anything else they've seen that day," Brown says of NewsNight With Aaron Brown, CNN's new prime time newscast.
NewsNight debuted quietly in New York on Nov. 5 at 10 p.m. Because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Brown has actually been anchoring the 10 p.m. slot since Sept. 17, when CNN cobbled together Special Report With Aaron Brown.
CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson calls NewsNight a "little gem" with a growing following and says he'd love it no matter what ratings it garnered.
Isaacson put a signature evening newscast at the top of his to-do list when he arrived at CNN last July. Although he inherited Brown, Isaacson quickly warmed to the idea of building a show around the former ABC News reporter and sometime anchor. Isaacson says he knew Brown's "quirky sensibility" would help make for an interesting show.
"What's surprised me is how well he's been able to make it work when the news is real serious," Isaacson adds.
Some critics see Brown as stiff and aloof. When he was a local anchor in Seattle, some referred to him as "Arrogant Brown," and Seattle Post-Intelligencer TV critic John Levesque is no a fan of Brown's "smirky anchor style."
But viewers have been making their own more positive judgment, so far. After two weeks, the newscast is averaging a 1.3 rating (1.3 million viewers). It re-airs at 1 a.m. ET, averaging a 0.5 rating (507,000 viewers). Only Larry King Live is giving the network better numbers in prime. The week of Nov. 12-18, NewsNight had a 1.6, while Fox News Channel's War on Terror specials delivered a 1.2 and MSNBC programming combined for a 0.6 Nielsen.
NewsNight's architects— Brown, Isaacson and Senior Executive Producer David Bohrman—wanted a newscast that was different from broadcast or cable networks' news.
"It's not just the main section of the paper, it's the whole paper," says Bohrman, who was handpicked by Brown to produce his show. The two worked together 10 years ago on ABC's World News Now, the quirky overnight newscast that provided both men with inspiration for NewsNight.
Sept. 11 forced them to alter some of their plans. "We never imagined we'd be dealing with one story and the story of our lifetime," says Brown, who writes or rewrites about 90% of the show. He says the show is gingerly going to press beyond the day's top news stories. "We're pretty determined to start broadening it a bit."
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