Wow - is history repeating itself? Because it sure feels like the fall of 2005: Bright young star is built up at CNN as the next big thing, while older, established network stalwart, on the job in earnest since September 11, 2001, is shunted aside with ostentatious silence from the brass and hushed whispers from everyone else. Sound familiar? Today, it's the story of Paula Zahn's wholly unsurprising resignation from CNN amid the hoopla of Campbell Brown's ascendancy — but it might as well be the tale of Aaron Brown being not-so-subtly shoved out in favor of Anderson Cooper just over a year and a half ago. What they both have in common: The utter lack of grace and class on the part of CNN, transparently elbowing yesterday's stars out of the way for the newer, younger model.
You would think that CNN would have learned a thing or two after Aaron Brown's embarrassing ouster — embarrassing for CNN, that is, given the classless , very public way the matter was handled. You'd think that they might have been reminded by Brown's re-emergence after his
gag-order contract with CNN had expired. You'd maybe even think that they'd operate with a little more discretion after the response to Jon Klein's comments about replacing Soledad O'Brien with Kiran Chetry on "American Morning": "She lights up the screen... One look at her tells you why she deserves the slot."
But no. Instead, Zahn had to suffer through public speculation about her inevitable ouster for at least two months, after it was reported in Page Six that her job was up for grabs.* CNN did little to correct that impression — they relaunched CNN.com without bothering to update her show's page ("Yet another sign that the end is near for 'Paula Zahn Now'"), and supplanted her show with a Zahn-less YouTube Debate preview Glenn Beck for a week (she was on vacation, but still; one can't help recalling that Aaron Brown had left on vacation when he was shown the door). Brown wondered what the hell CNN was doing, or maybe not, noting that they were "sending a message"; by mid-month, here was TVNewser's take: "CNN is barely pretending Paula Zahn still has a show of her own."
So: This resignation is no surprise. In truth, neither is the need for her replacement, or at least some sort of change in the 8pm hour since Zahn has been clobbered on a daily basis by Bill O'Reilly on Fox and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. Whether or not Brown can turn that around is obviously an open question; it would be a challenge for anyone. But the uncool and ungraceful way in which Zahn has been frozen out should be a warning sign for Brown on the way in: Sure, Jon Klein said yesterday that "Campbell stands out in this business as an impressive anchor with a distinctive ability to connect with viewers," but back in 2002, it was Zahn who was being pushed as the smart hottie on the block: "'What other morning show has a host who is brilliant, super smart — and sexy?'" Ratings can be fickle — and so too can be Jon Klein.
No one can fault Klein for making the tough decisions about who stays and who goes on his network — that's his job — but there are ways to execute those decisions that are respectful and dignified, inasmuch as an ouster can be. If we've known about Zahn's impending departure than surely she did, too, so CNN had ample time to plan a graceful, face-saving exit for all concerned. But now that's not possible (even with Zahn's classy farewell email praising her colleagues and the network) — Zahn may well be looking forward to taking a break "for the first time in 30 years, but after the way this thing played out onlookers can only assume that that's the last thing she really wanted. For someone who has been a star at the network for six years, it's a lousy way to send her out.
Loyalty, Jon Klein [FishbowlNY]
Independence Day For Aaron Brown [ETP]
As Predicted, Campbell Brown To CNN; Whither Paula Zahn? [ETP]
Does CNN Still Care About Zahn Now? [TVNewser]
*And, actually, in October in Jossip but the chatter was kicked off with a vengeance by Page Six.