Current TV CEO Joel Hyatt and newly minted network president David Bohrman talked with Multichannel News Monday about the decision to go "all in" on a progressive political service, prompted by the "strategic imperative" moment of bringing Keith Olbermann to primetime.
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, according to Bohrman.
MCN: 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 David
Joel Hyatt: After we got Keith to join current and in the weeks and indeed months and 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 eviddence 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 important here.
MCN: So, is this going to be a progressive news and information network?
David Bohrman: 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 shoutfest 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.
MCN: Are you going to remain CEO, Joel?
Hyatt: Yes. 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 will a;; the other functions of distribution, ad sales, marketing and research.
MCN: David, why leave CNN, you were just named SVP, chief innovation officer?
Bohrman: I 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 and 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.
MCN: 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.
MCN: 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.
MCN: 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 prime time 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.
YMCN: 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 newsduring 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. The dysfunction in Congress on the debt ceiling, where people yell at each and don't get anything done. In my office at CNN, I had 12 TV's 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 let 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.
MCN: So, you are not looking to do breaking news on this channel.
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.
MCN: 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 measured by.
MCN: Have you talked budget and 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.