Current TV CEO Joel Hyatt and newly minted network
President David Bohrman talked with B&C Monday about the decision to go "all in" on
a progressive political network, prompted by the "strategic imperative"
moment of bringing Keith Olbermann to prime time.
Bohrman, whose innovations as CNN Washington exec
included YouTube debates, John King's "magic wall" election coverage, and
anchoring political conventions from the floor, will bring that innovative and
entrepreneurial spirit to Current, says Hyatt. The goal is nothing less than a
reinvention of the network, says Bohrman.
When you got Keith Olbermann, you called that a
game-changer. We guess this is a coach-changer. Why did you make the switch to
Joel Hyatt: After we got Keith to join Current,
and in the weeks and, indeed, months, we were doing all the work to get Countdown launched on Current and get
the studio and build it out and hire a great staffer, it became increasingly
clear to Al [Gore] and to me what flowed from our large investment in Countdown was the strategic imperative
to go all in as a political commentary and news analysis network. Once we made
that major strategic decision, it also was clear that we needed to find for the
senior levels of leadership of our company the expertise in television news
production and programming that we did not have internally.
Al and I are pretty resourceful guys when it comes to
that sort of thing and interestingly enough all roads led to David Bohrman. And
the input was if you are looking for the best in the business, the best in the
business was David Bohrman and I am delighted to say that Friday was his last
day at CNN and today was his first day here, which, to me, is evidence that he
is pretty eager to seize this opportunity and passionately shares our vision
and agrees with us that there is a huge opportunity to do something really
So, is this going to be a progressive news and
It has been, and is and it will be. It won't be to the exclusion to other
points of view, but it's going to be an intelligent, vital forum for discussing
the issues of the day, and it's not going to be a lot of shout-fest back and
forth like the old Crossfire [the
former show on his former net, CNN], but it is going to be a forum for really
interesting, informative, enlightened discussion.
Are you going to remain CEO, Joel?
David is joining us in a newly created position: president, Current TV.
Reporting to him will be programming, production, digital, broadcast operations
and technology. I will serve as CEO and David will report to me as well as the
other functions of distribution, ad sales, marketing and research.
David, why leave CNN? You were just named SVP, chief
agree that is one of the coolest job titles in television, but what I started
today is probably the coolest job in television. I get to work with Joel and
Keith and the Vice President and reinvent a network and, hopefully, reinvent a
network in a better way. You learn lessons that we should all have learned from
the last 10 or 15 years of cable news and create something that is better for
the viewer, more usable, more informative. In an interesting way the
dysfunction we saw in Washington over the debt ceiling very much reflects the
dysfunction in much of what we've seen in cable TV. It's just this constant
partisan bickering and posturing with no sense of progress.
We want to shine some light on ideas and provide the
right forum for them. So, we are going to build programs before and after Keith
and we will eventually be building out an entire day's worth of programming
that fits in with the new mission of Current. And taking your metaphor, be
the coach and build a whole new team and a whole new offense and set it all up
is really a feeling. I think it will be a blast for me and invigorating and I
think at the end of the day we are going to end up creating something that you
are going to want and our viewers are going to want all day and every day.
So your goal is to put the "progress" in
progressive in the sense that you won't be running repeats of Olbermann and Vanguard five and six times a day.
Borhman: Yes. Now, Vanguard is a fabulous
documentary series, but no, you will see a programming day that is coherent and
makes sense, that fits in with the mission and is related to news and
information of the day. There could be a long-form or a pod here or there, but
the profile and feel of this network will change. It is probably overused, but
a current of fresh air will blow into Current.
When will we see this?
Bohrman: I expect we will move relatively soon -- let's
not define 'soon' -- on adding programs first to prime and then the rest of the
day. We're not going to be having this same conversation a year from now. You
will see a vastly different prime several months down the road than you do now.
What will Keith's role will be in this since he is
chief news officer? How will you two dovetail?
Bohrman: Keith's role is critical. He is the
centerpiece of Countdown. He will be
a great partner as we firm up and create the ideas for primetime and as we
think about the things the network does. I worked with Keith in the past. We
have mutual respect for each other, we like each other and I think we will end
up being a really interesting team.
You said cable news needed fixing. What exactly is
wrong with it?
Bohrman: There are a couple of things.
Newsgathering has become a commodity. Much of what is on cable news during the
day is just this commoditization of "here's what's happened." What we
would like to do is be aware of everything that's happened but put it into
context and talk about it. In my office at CNN, I
had 12 TVs on the wall and it was all pretty much the same, people yelling and
screaming at each other all day long.
I think we want to try to come up with a formula that
lets conversation happen, opinions happen and, here's a phrase, and lets people
decide. We may not report and people decide [Fox's slogan]. But we will
analyze. We'll have points of view and people that have something to say and we
will let the voters, the viewers, decide.
So, you are not looking to do breaking news on this
Bohrman: No, breaking news is largely now a
commodity. We will be aware of breaking news and continue to use Google News or
Yahoo! News or maybe some of the other wires services or broadcast news
services. But we are not going to employ 300 bureaus and people around the
world to tell us what's happening because that is already available to not just
us but everybody else throughout the course of their day.
How should we measure the success of this "all
in" play -- innovative programming, higher ratings, a new brand?
Bohrman: All of the above.
Hyatt: I think you should measure us by our
impact, influence, and success, and that success certainly has to do with
ratings and out impact will have to do with providing that kind of insightful
analysis that is helping audiences understand and contextualize the news and
issues of the day. Those are big ambitions and that is what we want to be
Have you talked
budget? Will David have the resources to get this done?
Hyatt: Of course we have talked budget and David
is comfortable that within the constraints of our not being a huge organization
like CNN that we nonetheless have the resources necessary to execute our
ambition. After all, this little network brought Keith Olbermann to Current and
launched Countdown and we get done
what we need to get done.
David is going to be scrappy and entrepreneurial, which
goes to my DNA and our cultural bias, and will continued to be innovative and
impactful which goes to what we are all about here.