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Is actor-to-anchor leap merit or hype?

By ERIC DEGGANS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001


Some might say it's a premature promotion for someone who has barely begun to learn the news business. Or a transparent bid for headlines and viewer buzz.

photo
[ABC Television photo]
Andrea Thompson is making a quick jump from acting to broadcasting news.
But former NYPD Blue co-star Andrea Thompson says the 11 months she has spent learning TV news as a reporter at KRQE-TV in Albuquerque, N.M., has prepared her for a job as an anchor at CNN's Headline News.

Thompson, who left her role as Det. Jill Kirkendall on Blue last year to work at KRQE, will move to Atlanta in late June to serve as an anchor at the Headline News channel -- also working as a national correspondent developing stories for CNN News Group.

And for those who say this is an example of an actor leapfrogging into a prime journalist's gig before she has paid enough dues, Thompson, 41, had a strong rebuttal ready.

"In my own defense, though I don't really need to defend myself . . . I could have done this last year," noted Thompson, saying that several national news outlets (she declined to name specific companies) sought to hire her as an anchor right off NYPD Blue's set.

"I wanted to learn a reporter's skills the old-fashioned way . . . instead of just sitting in an anchor chair, collecting a big paycheck," said the actor, who acknowledged she probably wouldn't have gotten the job without her connection to Blue. "I do believe I'm ready."

CNN and its related channels have come under increased scrutiny in recent months, following a shake-up in the wake of the AOL- Time Warner merger that saw founder Ted Turner pushed out, along with 400 laid-off employees. Rival Fox News Channel has made significant ratings gains against CNN, while executives there have spent months developing a plan for relaunching the Headline News channel, according to Variety magazine.

Former Fox and WB network head Jamie Kellner, now head of CNN parent Turner Networks, has already talked about adding "showmanship" and star power to CNN, rehiring Moneyline anchor Lou Dobbs, who had left CNN in 1999.

Reese Schonfeld, the first president of CNN and author of the book Me and Ted Against the World: the Unauthorized Story of the Founding of CNN (HarperCollins), said the Thompson hiring sounds like standard network TV strategy from Kellner.

"They'll park her there (at Headline News), let her do the work and hope she learns something," said Schonfeld, who is no longer with CNN. "But I still think you've got to find a different way to do the news, rather than doing the news with different faces."

Thompson, a model and actor since age 16, shrugged off notions she was handed a job many broadcasters work years to attain.

"A number of journalists have defended me, because they believe anyone who comes to this job with passion can do the job," she said. "And I've been very driven about learning here."

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