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TV news moves toward Hollywood star system

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This was a good week for Connie Chung.

She started out as an underutilized reporter on ABC and ended up as the newest anchor on CNN, where she will have her own primetime show opposite Bill O'Reilly on the Fox News Channel starting in the spring.

CNN's bid for Ms. Chung is the latest in a recent flurry of offers made to recognizable journalists who are being courted with the promises and salaries usually reserved for Tom Cruise and Meg Ryan.

Desperate to stand out in the crowded television market, news executives are playing "let's make a deal" with people they hope will give them an identifiable brand - especially on cable, where the competition among news networks has intensified recently. On those channels, the anchor's seat is no longer for no-names, but is increasingly reserved for personalities who can deliver the news.

"[It's] very much the box-office concept come to television," says Everette Dennis, a media critic at Fordham University, in New York.

CNN and cable rival Fox News have been particularly aggressive in their battle for top talent, with Paula Zhan leaving Fox for CNN last fall, and Fox countering this year by stealing away legal analyst Greta Van Susteren, whose vacated 8 p.m. slot is the one Chung will fill.

In some cases, it's not just journalists being tapped: On Monday, MSNBC debuted a new program hosted by former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes.

CNN executives made it clear this week that they are officially ditching the network's decades-old approach dictating that the news, not the person reporting it, is the star.

"I never quite understood why it had to be an either/or proposition. I felt that you could have news as the star, and strong personalities that were trusted journalists that people wanted to watch," Walter Isaacson, head of the CNN News Group, told reporters on Wednesday.


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