When Clark Howard cut back his hours last year on syndicated radio, he wasn’t taking his first steps toward an early retirement.
Rather, he’s expanding his TV presence, joining an ensemble weekday newscast on HLN starting Monday, June 4, dubbed “Evening Express” from 5 to 7 p.m.
HLN, in a press release, said it will be modeled after its successful “Morning Express With Robin Meade,” providing “an energetic, inspirational and solutions-oriented look at the day’s news, accompanied by deeper discussions and reporting on stories and issues that resonate in the American household, including parenting, education, health, personal finance and relationships.”
This means it will have a more conversational tone than a typical evening newscast.
Ryan Smith, host of programming for InSession on TruTV and part of the “Morning Express” team, will anchor. Smith has a background as a sports and entertainment attorney with a degree from Columbia Law School.
Howard, who has hosted a weekend show for HLN since January 2009 and does regular segments for “Morning Express,” said in an interview this morning that his role will be to take the news of the day and “talk about how it affects your life and make it as relevant as possible to the viewers.”
The third member of the team, British journalist of Sierra Leonean descent Isha Sesay, has been an anchor on CNN International and serves as a correspondent on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“They tested different combinations of people,” Howard said. “We have really good chemistry. Hopefully, it will translate on TV.”
Howard, whose focus on his weekend show has been financial matters, may now be forced to comment on other topics – including an area he notoriously knows very little about: pop culture: “One person at HLN handed me a copy of People magazine as a joke and said, ‘Start reading!’ ”
Heard on the radio locally from 1 to 3 p.m. at AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB, Howard will continue to do his radio show at the WSB building, then drive directly to CNN Center to do his HLN show live.
Vinnie Politan, who is currently hosting the HLN 5 to 7 p.m. slot, will continue to work with HLN. A spokeswoman said they are developing another show for him.
UPDATE: I spoke with Sesay, Smith and Scot Safon, executive vice president who oversees HLN, this afternoon. Smith will stick with InSession while Sesay will continue to work with CNNI.
Late afternoon/early evening news shows tend to be serious and straightforward, a pattern established back in the 1950s and 1960s, when there were three network options. Think David Brinkley and Chet Huntley. Walter Cronkite and Harry Reasoner. Vestiges of that stentorian, voice of god approach remains to this day with the likes of Brian Williams, Scott Pelley and Diane Sawyer.
HLN wants bring a bit of that morning talk show esprit de corps to the 5 and 6 p.m. hours.
“Our morning show generates conversation. Nobody is keeping the conversation going at this hour,” said Safon. “There is still a focus on what happened. We want to take on different angles.”
Smith said he wants the approach to be fundamentally upbeat and positive, to help people relax a bit. He also wants to be “solution oriented,” repeating a phrase used in the press release. “How can we help facilitate that dinner table discussion? We want to have stories the whole family can watch.” He also said they may not necessarily focus the entire time on the big stories but on stories people “care about,” an approach that makes them more “relatable.” (”Relatable” is a popular buzzword in TV news circles.)
He said the key to any good show like this is chemistry. “We genuinely like each other and we like to talk about the news” he said. He said when he first met Howard for 90 minutes, he said, “I wanted to spend the rest of the week with him. He’s a phenomenal person in every way. I’ve known Isha for a couple of years. We’re very good friends.”
Each person brings a different skill set and specialty. Howard’s the consumer business expert. Smith is the legal guy. Sesay has a background in international issues but knows her fair share of pop culture. “I’m the kind of guy who likes to talk about every little subject,” Smith said. “Our friendship and respect will make the dialogues go easy.” Sesay said she will watch both “TMZ” and “60 Minutes,” read InStyle one minute, The Economist the next. Howard can talk politics and even considered running for mayor of Atlanta at one point.
Sesay said she is looking forward to engaging the news in a different way than she does on CNNI, which is more serious and straightforward.
She has worked with a co-anchors before who disliked her and made it difficult to connect on screen. But in this case, she’s confident she, Howard and Smith will meld well. “We can joke with each other. We can josh with each other,” she said. “It doesn’t feel forced. The times we’ve been together, we get exuberant and loud. We’re always chatting and making each other laugh.”
Sesay, who grew up in London, said at first, she wondered if she’d miss the hustle and bustle of that town. Rather, she said, “as I’ve gotten busier at work, I’ve come to appreciate the ease of life in Atlanta. I can get my groceries without it being an ordeal. I am on a first-name basis with my dry cleaners. I know my neighbors [in Virginia Highland.] I can walk around. And I love the people in the CNN building. Everyone is friendly.”
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk