Former CNN exec promises a vastly different network going forward
Following CEO Mark Rosenthal's departure two weeks ago, Current TV co-founder Joel Hyatt has fully reclaimed the role he has held for the bulk of Current's history. Almost immediately, he and co-founder Al Gore picked their new programming guru — David Bohrman, a longtime TV executive who comes by way of CNN and whose resume includes prior stints at both ABC and NBC.
Bohrman will assume the role of President of Current TV, a position the network has never had before. He will report directly to Hyatt with those from programming, production, broadcast operations and tech all reporting to him.
His explicit goal is to introduce and enhance the line-up around Chief News Officer Keith Olbermann, who hosts the network's top-rated show, "Countdown."
Bohrman and Hyatt talked with TheWrap on Monday about going "all in" on news analysis, the flaws of cable news networks and social media innovations.
David, coming in, what do you see as the greatest challenge that you face? Bohrman: Let’s put the glass half full. What I’m chomping at the bit to do is to implement the vision for the transformation of Current from what it was to what it's going to be. [Joel] brought me onboard to make it happen, to create a programming schedule and programs that deal with opinion, analysis and news of the day. We are not creating a news gathering organization but a 24-hour channel that will be vital in the political process of the company. Joel, you used a great phrase before that you wanted to be "all in."
Hyatt: While doing the work of getting Countdown going [...] it was increasingly clear to Al and me that it was a strategic imperative to go all in as a political commentary and news analysis network. That was the decision we made and it represents a major strategic shift for the network. In order to execute on that vision, Al and I wanted to go out and find the very best person in TV news production and programming. If I say so myself, Al and I are pretty resourceful and have access to lots of great minds and inputs. Basically everyone we asked said he's the best in the business for that.
Is that shift represented by replacing Mark with David considering that while both come from cable TV, Mark came from an entertainment and media background and David from a more political one?
Hyatt: They are not as directly linked as you make them, but yes that’s of course right. Mark's background was in an entertainment background not a news background — and never really in programming since he had the business side. So David's coming in again with an entire career of expertise in news analysis and the innovations associated with providing news analysis and political commentary. You're comparing two things that are not comparable.
Bohrman: I really don't have Mark's job. Although there is a lot of politics and political coverage in my background, there is also a lot of pure TV creation. I've started up a lot of programs.
So then what is the programming strategy moving forward?
Bohrman: Current is a network that is going to be completely transformed and I get to manage it. [...] My pet peeve is people producing TV the way they think they are supposed to. My track record is to break rules and change the way TV was produced. If you remember before "The Situation Room" and anchoring election coverage at the Nasdaq, no one in TV used mammoth walls to display information and help viewers navigate it. That is just one example of a new, fresh approach to TV.
Do you already have ideas for the new shows you want?
Bohrman: I know we'll build up prime time with Keith as the keystone. There will be a program before and after and we won't wait terribly long before we create those. We are already thinking ideas for what's on Current in the daytime as well as prime time. You will see a vastly different network seven days a week.
Do you need another tentpole in prime time to complement Keith?
Bohrman: I think we need a strong prime time and we have a tentpole. We want programs that are really interesting and compelling that fit with Keith. I'm not sure that we need another Mickey Mantle, which I reference since Keith is a New York Yankees fan. I'm not sure we need two Mickey Mantles but I think we need some really good first-class people to surround him.
With this new slate of programming, what hole in the cable news market are you trying to fill?
Hyatt: We think that what audiences really want is more ability to understand the issues facing them and their families. I glibly like to say the other networks are about breaking news and we're about fixing it, but what I really mean by that is it isn’t the availability of news items that is lacking today. As David said earlier, that is a commodity. It's making sense of those items, having a coherent whole. It's having insightful intelligent analysis of those items. We think it's sorely lacking. We view that as a great opportunity and an important mission. We seek to have an impact. We want to be influential in the discussion.
And what role will social media play in all of this?
Bohrman: If you recall the YouTube debates in the last presidential cycle were my idea and we executed them. I think it transformed debates to some extent. [...] About a decade ago I ran a company called Pseudo that was arguably the first Internet TV network. It is also part of my DNA to figure out right away interesting compelling new ways.
Hyatt: Remember our roots are here in Silicon Valley. We were the first TV network in the world to use Twitter. In the 2008 presidential debates we carried those debates with live tweets on the lower third portion of the screen.
So six months or 12 months from now, how will us outside observers know you have succeeded in accomplishing these goals?
Bohrman: You will tell us.
Hyatt: We've talked about what's important to us, and of course it will be measured in our ratings. You call us on August 8 next year.