Why did CNN’s Jake Tapper want to be an anchor? For that the former ABC News correspondent cites a line from the 1987 film Broadcast News: “It’s because if I do it well then they’ll pay me more, and my life will be great and they’ll treat me better — that’s why.”
In seriousness, Tapper says he jumped at the chance to anchor his own weekday program The Lead, which premieres Monday, March 18 at 4 p.m., because of the ability to direct coverage. “I’ve been a correspondent for a long time and I was really eager to steer a ship to help decide what a program would cover,” he tells B&C. “There’s no correspondent worth his salt that isn’t frustrated at least occasionally by some stories not being covered. Now I have some say, and that’s exciting.”
Unlike at ABC News, where Tapper covered the White House beat for four years, his CNN program will be broader than just politics. Each broadcast will be divided into sections: “World Lead,” “National Lead,” “Sports Lead,” Money Lead,” “Pop Lead,” “Politics Lead,” and “Buried Lead,” which will cover other interesting non-lead stories. Segments for his first week include a story on guns, one on women in combat and an interview with the comedian Stephen Colbert about his sister running for Congress (watch an excerpt here).
New CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker was said to be helpful in closing Tapper’s deal to move to the network and he says his new boss “has been involved the exact appropriate amount” in the development of The Lead. He points specifically to Zucker allowing him a full hour of primetime for an interview last month with U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha, who was receiving the Medal of Honor, as confirming his decision to leave network for cable news.
Though The Lead debuts at 4 p.m., Tapper alludes to the fact that the show may get a promotion to a higher-profile timeslot as Zucker continues tinkering with CNN’s primetime lineup. “I don’t expect it will be at that timeslot forever,” he says. For now, however, he’s happy with the time period that he feels can help set the agenda for the stories of the day.
“I think it’s a time of day when people can come on our show, policymakers or whoever, and make news that will be in the evening news broadcasts, the primetime news shows and the next day’s papers,” Tapper says.