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Why Christiane Amanpour Is Bombing on ABC's 'This Week'

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NEW YORK – Nine weeks since her hot launch as the host of one of the major Sunday political talk shows, Christiane Amanpour is tanking as the ratings for ABC's "This Week " have fallen dramatically to the point that the program occasionally drops to last place among the top three.
"This Week," under host George Stephanopolous, at times hit No. 1, but usually held a strong second place in the Sunday morning talk show wars, after the perennial favorite, "Meet the Press" on NBC. But now "This Week" is winding up in third place more often than not on most Sundays. On Sunday, Sept. 19, for instance, the show not only plummeted to third place, behind "Meet the Press" and CBS's "Face the Nation," but received the lowest ratings in the 25-54 demographic in more than seven years.
For Amanpour, this has to be a tough uphill battle. It's a bit ironic that a celebrated international journalist with a wealth of experience in the major hot spots of the world could find defeat in a cold television studio, as far as one could get from the deserts of Arabia and the bloody streets of Sarajevo, where at one time she commanded the attention of a global audience.
Her going to ABC to anchor a prestige program was promoted for months. The hype made sense. Amanpour, as familiar a brand as there is in TV journalism, was leaving CNN and joining one of the media's most respected news programs. She was a woman, a journalist warrior, intrepid, fearless, and exotic. She was everywhere – in the Gulf War, reporting as scuds were incoming; in Bosnia and Serbia, wearing bullet-proof vests; in Iran, her head covered, but not her instincts for the jugular.
By all rights, by all measurements, she should've been an instant hit with "This Week." She's well prepared, obviously intelligent, a tough questioner, and she has scooped outstanding exclusives with the major movers and shakers of the moment. Her interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi showed tenacity and adversarial style; her interview with Queen Raina of Jordan displayed deep understanding of the Middle East and a warmth and sympathy she rarely allows to seep out.
In the studio at the Newseum in Washington, with her round-table talking heads, she's less sure-footed. She lacks the cozy manner and hail-fellow-well-met style of the master of Sunday shows, Tim Russert, or the friendly, accommodating manner of Russert's successor, David Gregory. There's nothing cozy about her. Seated at her table, one would not dare laugh or take a poke at a fellow guest or, least of all, at the host. Her guests change from week to week, with the possible exception of George Will, to whom she is far less deferential than her predecessors. In fact, she's not deferential at all to anyone. She's polite, attentive but hardly warm. She's not "one of the boys." And there's the rub.
The Sunday political talk shows are made for and by Washington insiders. Each show has smallish audiences compared to the viewers of scripted or reality shows. But the hundreds of thousands who watch faithfully every Sunday morning are a prized herd -- Washington insiders, news junkies, political power brokers, gamers, lobbyists, inside-the-Beltway types even when they live clear across the country.
Likewise, the hosts are insiders, guys who covered the White House and the Congress forever, who dine at the White House, who remember fun anecdotes about politicians and who know or seem to know where the bodies are buried. Tim Russert was the ultimate insider, and therefore the most successful host. David Gregory, who took over "Meet the Press" after Russert's death in 2008 and is still trying to find his own voice, comes out of the White House correspondents corps. Bob Schieffer of "Face the Nation" is an old Washington hand, respected and familiar.
Amanpour is an outsider. She's a Washington outsider, and what's more, she's an outsider in the United States. She's half Iranian, born in London, speaks with a clipped accent that some take as affected and haughty. Others can't stand her stiff manner, pursed lips, eyeglasses that accentuate her braininess, and her habit of puncturing winding answers (except for Arianna Huffington, to whom Amanpour deferred repeatedly).
Tom Shales, the Washington Post television critic who has bashed Amanpour from the start, calls her a "globe-trotting Fancy-Pants." Commenting on her debut, Shales said:
"It's not that Amanpour seemed personally uncomfortable or constrained in her weekend debut . . . but rather that she proved that she's miscast for the role, her highly touted global orientation coming across as inappropriate and contrived on a broadcast that for three decades has dealt primarily with domestic politics, policies and culture."
Shales is wrong, at least in part. I'm not sure that a global orientation is inappropriate on any political discussion program at a time of huge global problems that affect us domestically and the other way around. In his determination to bring Amanpour down, Shales is trying to poke at her where she lives -- in the global sphere. And that's silly. ABC surely wanted her international vision and experience, her superb knowledge of world affairs, her ease with heads of states and her access to all of them.
But she is miscast for other reasons.
She's a woman, and surely many of us might think this is a problem. She's the first woman to handle the host duties solo (Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson, familiar faces inside Washington, were co-hosts from 1996 to 2002). Women haven't fared too happily as news anchors. Katie Couric short-circuited instantly after becoming the anchor on CBS's "Evening News." Barbara Walters, who was paired with Harry Reasoner decades ago on ABC's "World News," bombed, and so did the pair of Connie Chung and Dan Rather on CBS. In other words, even when women are paired with men, they fail.
Still, defying past experience and negative prognostications, there's now a huge female success: Diane Sawyer, who became the anchor of "World News" in January 2010 and ABC's principal anchor for breaking news, election coverage, and special events. Ratings for the week of September 20-24 show "World News" with the most total viewer growth among evening newscasts week-to-week and closing the gap with top-ranked NBC.
Like Amanpour, Sawyer is a world brand, a highly respected journalist who has covered international news, traveled the globe, interviewed the major figures of our time, reported for CBS's "60 Minutes" and "CBS Morning News" and anchored "Good Morning America" before taking on "World News." But Sawyer is a homegrown girl, born in Kentucky, launched her career as a weather reporter in Louisville, touched up her Southern drawl at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., and came up through the network ranks. She's not an outsider.
Alessandra Stanley, writing about Amanpour's debut, said, in part: "Ms. Amanpour is not an election expert and hasn't spent her life covering Washington politics, but she is smarter than many of those who have, with a range of international experience that is hard to match. More important, she has panache and a no-nonsense briskness."
Problem is, panache and no-nonsense briskness don't seem to charm the permanent floating chattering party in Washington, and apparently does not appeal to the Sunday morning talk show audiences. Sly wink-winks, joshing elbows in the ribs, deference to insiders, to the establishment, to the media savants – that goes a long way.
Amanpour doesn't know the game or doesn't care to learn. She stays outside the sandbox. And she's not invited to play.
Filed Under: Media, Woman Up

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179 Comments

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Patricia

Luisita, thank you for this article. I always felt that This Week, and possibly many of the Sunday Shows ARE pro-American/a place where our patriotism is waved and I DO feel that Americans should be able to live with ALL peoples. I think that somehow, Christiane is more about herself rather than giving us an excellent Sunday Morning show. Show, yes it does provide SOME entertainment.

October 07 2010 at 1:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nkriesel

I watched Amanpour moderate the discussion on the 911 debate this weekend and she clearly wants us to believe that Islam is not a problem. Well, all you have to know about Islam is 911 and the fact that the US is issuing travel advisories for Europe. The Towers came down because of Islamic extremists and the advisory isn't being issued because the Europeans are serving bad pork.

October 04 2010 at 6:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pat Couture

She's too far left to fit into today's anti-liberal climate. Never really thought she was impartial about anything. Hopefully, she'll stay with main-stream media, where you never get the whole story because all they do is push their liberal agenda. There is nothing for those who appreciate the opposite view and she doesn't realize there is any other view than the one she espouses.

October 04 2010 at 7:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
moon389

I must say that Christine's political talk show host was a miscast - there is no doubt that she did a very good job as a foreign correspondent, but her manner of stiffnes gives an air of unseasoned TV host - but then, who cares the main news chennels nowadays? - they all act like Government propaganda machines, like in Cuba, Venezuela or Iran - FOX news is the way to go, if you're really interested in learning what's happening in the Country - I sued to watch CNN a lot, but not anymore.

October 04 2010 at 12:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
D. JEAN ROBERTS

enjoyed the article. Amanpour is just too real for those insiders as you have called them. she will succeed no matter what she does. i have enjoyed her brillance for years. never forget those famous words...."we are surrounded by frigging idiots." perhaps she is just too intelligent for them all.

October 04 2010 at 12:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mira

It is very sad that Amanpour's intelligence is judged by " ratings". She is a heavyweight in the world of journalism and has shown incredible bravery reporting from the front line and areas not too many men would be brave enough to venture to for a story. Instead we have reporters who have never left the studio reading off prompters ( barely reading their lines with unfamiliar names and places) or heavy doses of Couric pseydo intelligent babble. What a shame!

October 03 2010 at 3:51 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Cathie

As a regular and faithful viewer of "This Week" as I fix brunch every Sunday morning, it's not Amanpour that has been turning me off lately, it's the guest rosters that constantly include people I am sick of listening to.

October 02 2010 at 3:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
quiller1951

I have never cared for the roundtable portion of The Week and usually change the channel or turn off the TV for this portion. I really like Amanpour on This Week because she conducts interviews so well. I also like the fact that there is an international dimension added to the show. That has been missing for far too long. Most of our news shows are so damned ethnocentric. I often turn to BBC or Canadian broadcast for a broader view.

October 02 2010 at 3:13 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
wsbeaugal

Ms. Amanpour is unpopular because she is not American. This Week is an American Show about American Politics and should be hosted by an American Woman. Please replace her with Dee Dee Myers, Cynthia McFadden, or Gwen Ifel of PBS. Christian Amanpour is stiff and not comfortable unless she is interviewing someone like Tony Blair or the Queen of Jordan. She is not comfortable with Americans or American culture. She needs to be put on the International Beat not on This Week!

October 02 2010 at 1:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
margito

I find her one of the best reporters on tv. Thank God she came to ABC as it made Sunday television worth watching again. I just hope that the network has the patience to wait til her ratings go up. Word will spread that we finally have a show that informs and brings more of an international balance instead of the usual partisan blabber.

October 02 2010 at 1:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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