CNN’s John Berman is a sports-crazed insomniac and political savant who graduated Harvard without ever taking a broadcasting class. He’s also one of the network’s rising stars, who hosts two daily shows and has emerged as president Jeff Zucker’s go-to utility man.
As to how he reach this lofty status, “I never thought about it that hard,” Berman told TheWrap. “It just sort of happened.”
It quickly becomes clear to anyone who visits CNN’s Manhattan headquarters that Berman is extremely popular with his colleagues. He’s considered one of the brightest political minds at the network, is humorous enough that he’s been asked to partake in lighthearted end-of-year specials, and maintains a work ethic that’s almost a condition of mentioning his name.
On a typical day, Berman hosts “Early Start” from 4-6 a.m. and takes a jog around Central Park before his next gig, “At This Hour,” kicks off at 11 a.m.
“I don’t think I could do it if I didn’t [jog]. It gives me the energy to move on,” Berman said.
He commutes from Westchester, New York, and refuses to keep an apartment in Manhattan because it wouldn’t be fair to his nine-year-old sons, even though it would add over two hours to his nightly sleep schedule.
“Waking up early sucks, no matter what,” Berman said, before explaining why he sets his alarm for 1:33 a.m.
“It’s not 1:30 because every minute counts at that hour. The idea of getting three extra minutes is great,” he said. He likes to fill in for “AC360” because the primetime slot gives him a chance to get a regular night’s sleep, unless a big game is on, of course.
“There is nothing worse than a [Boston] Red Sox winning streak because I won’t go to sleep. I’ll stay up and watch the game. That’s dumb. Or when the [New England] Patriots play Sunday night football, I watch it and that’s dumb,” the Massachusetts native said, admitting he pulled an all-nighter as recently as last week.
“John is one of the hardest working guys in news,” Anderson Cooper told TheWrap. “[He] seems to require little sleep. I don’t know how he does it.”
Kate Bolduan co-hosts “At This Hour” with Berman and told TheWrap they “laugh with each other and at each other, probably in equal parts, every day,” but warned that she has to be careful not to criticize Boston sports around him.
“He can turn on you quickly,” Bolduan joked before making a declaration. “I think this is the perfect time for John to finally acknowledge he has a photographic memory. It would come as a relief to the rest of us mere mortals.”
Berman’s first job after Harvard was supposed to be a way to pass the time until he started Columbia University law school. He jokes that he sent letters to news organizations essentially saying, “Hey, I know about politics. Hire me. Hire me.”
ABC News gave him a shot and, after a stint as a weekend desk assistant, he found himself working for “World News Tonight” with journalism legend Peter Jennings during the 1996 election cycle.
“I was always going to law school, but I ended up loving it. I got into the business because of the politics but I ended up loving the journalism,” Berman said. “I never got out.”
Twenty years later, Berman’s phone rings whenever a replacement host is needed at CNN. He’s filled in for almost every program on the network, including “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” “New Day” and “Anderson Cooper 360,” but doesn’t have a complicated explanation for his role.
“I say yes whenever anyone asks me to do anything,” Berman said. “I never said no and they learned to count on me.”
Berman joked that colleague and senior media reporter Brian Stelter is trying to steal his title as the CNN employee who spends the most time at work.
Upon hearing this, Stelter told TheWrap, “Berman has a couch in his office. And shades on the windows. And come to think of it, he’s looking a little bit pale. Have you confirmed if he has EVER left the building?”
Despite Berman’s obsession with Boston sports, don’t expect the anchor to ditch CNN for ESPN anytime soon.
“I have, over the years, thought a lot about [sports broadcasting], but it’s my hobby. I don’t want it to be my job,” he said. “Also, I have no interest in being objective. I have no interest in appreciating sports for sports’ sake. I only want to root for the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics.”
Berman, who called being embedded on a presidential campaign “journalistic heaven,” said politics are both a hobby and profession for him at this point and that he will skip sleep entirely on a debate or election night.
“I love politics and I love campaigns, period. I always have. I love covering them. I love reading about them. I love every, single part,” Berman said.