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Finding Meaning in the Journeys - Broadcasting & Cable

Finding Meaning in the Journeys

Cooper built career as face of CNN reporting 'very human stories'
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Anderson Cooper soon will command fifteen hours of television each week, which is more than The CW's primetime.

One week ago, CNN moved his eponymous primetime newscast, Anderson Cooper 360°, to 8 p.m., with a repeat at 10 p.m. On September 12, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution will launch Anderson, Cooper's new talk show, across the country.

Cooper sees a direct link between the two shows.

"What I feel most fulfilled doing are the very human stories," says the well-traveled Cooper, 44. "In news, you can only do that when there's a big event like Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami. In daytime, you can do human stories about real people in a greater variety of situations than you can on an evening newscast.

"I realized in working with Oprah over the years how you can have that. You can explore these stories in another way, in an in-depth, satisfying way. When you do it right, you can really connect with viewers. Right now, our show will be the only show in daytime that can span that huge spectrum of stories."

Perhaps a more obvious link-and a big reason for Cooper's success-it's his engaging style. "Anderson is so smart but he doesn't go above the audience's head," says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Telepictures, Anderson's production company.  "He's completely accessible, naturally funny and self-deprecating, and that allows him to easily connect with people."

Cooper's past is well known: he's the son of writer Wyatt Emory Cooper and designer and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt. He brushes aside the notion that his mother's surname gained him any measure of fame or advantage, but he entered famous circles early. He was photographed by Diane Arbus for Harper's Bazaar as a baby, appeared on The Tonight Show with his mother at the age of three, and modeled for Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Macy's from the ages of 10 to 13.

But Cooper says the fact that he descends from railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt wasn't as impactful as people think. "The remarkable history of my mom's family doesn't have that much relevance to my day-to-day life. Not working was not an option and it never occurred to me. I realized early on that people who had a lot of money were just as miserable as everyone else."

Cooper also had to deal with loss at an early age. His father died at the age of 50, when Cooper was just 10. His brother, Carter Vanderbilt Cooper, killed himself by jumping from the terrace of his family's 14th floor Manhattan apartment when he was 23 and Cooper was 21.

After that, Cooper says, "I wanted to be in places where survival was an issue and people talked about real things. Places where life and death were real. People are often very uncomfortable talking about death, grieving and loss. I wanted to go somewhere where the language of loss is spoken."

Cooper left Yale early to travel around sub-Saharan Africa, where he became very sick with malaria. But that did not lessen his drive to travel and cover the events he encountered.

Upon returning to the U.S., he got a job as a fact-checker at the cable news network Channel One in New York. But that quickly grew dull for the adventure seeker. He had a friend make him a fake press pass, grabbed a Hi-8 camera and set off.

"I told Channel One that I was going to wars to shoot some stories and if you would like to see them, you can have first crack at them. They bought my first story about Burma for $2,000."

That was enough for Cooper to set up shop in Vietnam, where he enrolled in school to learn Vietnamese and continued reporting. During his six months there, he shot five more stories, all of which Channel One bought.

After Vietnam, Cooper continued to travel and do stories on war-torn countries such as Somalia and Bosnia. Channel One finally offered him a two-year contract.

"When I left college, I didn't know what I was going to do," he says. "I was concerned about supporting myself and accomplishing something. I felt like I had no other options besides traveling and covering the news. That may not have been a realistic perception, but it felt all or nothing to me. There was no plan B. Taking risks just seemed like what I had to do."

In 1995, ABC News-where Cooper had first tried to get a job answering phones-called him and asked for an audition tape. Cooper was hired as an ABC News correspondent in March 1995, and co-anchored ABC World News Now from 1999-2000.

In 2000, his career took a bit of a right turn, and he began hosting ABC's reality show, The Mole, for two seasons.

Then 9/11 happened, and everything changed. "I immediately said, 'This is ridiculous, I want to stop doing a reality show and go back to news.'"

Conveniently, CNN called the very next day.

Cooper co-anchored American Morning for two years. On Sept. 8, 2003, CNN launched his signature show, Anderson Cooper 360°. This summer, Ken Jautz, president of CNN's U.S. operations, gave the show the 8 and 10 p.m. slots.

"Anderson's show is our flagship program and he's one of CNN's best known and leading talents," says Jautz. "We wanted to make him more available to our viewers. Anderson and his show represent our brand."

And Cooper also will continue as a correspondent for CBS' 60 Minutes, a position he has held since 2007.

"I am happiest when I am doing multiple things," he says. "I see all of this as energizing."

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

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