Over the last few years, CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve special has become the go-to place to see your favorite serious journalists down shots of alcohol and get sloppy, or, as New York magazine put it, to “get looser than you’d expect.”
And for New Year’s 2022, a beverage-holding Lemon told his critics they “can kiss my behind,” while Bravo TV star Andy Cohen took a shot and went on rant about Bill de Blasio’s “horrible” tenure as New York City’s mayor. (“I will not be shamed for having fun on New Year’s Eve,” Cohen, who has co-hosted the show for five years, said later.)
But, things will be a bit different on Saturday night, the first New Year’s Eve special under new CNN boss Chris Licht. A network source confirmed to The Washington Post that Licht has asked his hosts, Cooper and Cohen in New York City before handing it over to Lemon in New Orleans at 12:30 a.m., not to drink on air this year.
Licht first told CNN employees to expect a more restrained New Year’s Eve program during a company meeting in November. “I’m not looking for a bunch of my respectful talent to be out there all night doing shots,” Licht said, according to a recording of his remarks obtained by The Post. “That will be different. I don’t think that builds credibility.”
After Licht’s mandate leaked out, Lemon appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and took a tequila shot with the host to make up for his dry New Year’s Eve. “I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do this year,” Lemon told Colbert. “You’re going to get me in trouble.”
Cohen’s booze-fuel tirade against de Blasio — not to mention a dig at Ryan Seacrest — at the dawn of 2022 got him into a bit of trouble. A CNN spokesperson acknowledged at the time that “Andy said something he shouldn’t have on live TV,” but confirmed that Cohen would be invited back for New Year’s 2023. The de Blasio rant “may be why we’re not allowed to” drink this year, Cooper joked on Colbert earlier this month.
Licht had actually called Cooper’s drinking “so adorable” during the staff meeting in November and told employees that Cooper and Cohen would be allowed to drink this year. But CNN later clarified that the executive was joking and that the prohibition applied to them.
CNN did not make anyone involved with this year’s special available for an interview. While some have derided CNN’s plan for a sober New Year’s Eve (“While other networks are dialing down the fun, here at Fox News our party is just getting started,” Fox News host Rachel Campos-Duffy told viewers this week), several current and former CNN staffers expressed relief to The Post. Some of the inebriated antics had lately gone too far for them, they said.
“I never liked the idea of anchors getting tipsy on air,” said former CNN anchor Carol Costello, who now teaches journalism at Loyola Marymount University. “Maybe I’m old school, but I don’t want to see the person informing me about civilian deaths in Ukraine and why they’re happening sloshed.”
Lisa Napoli, who wrote a 2020 book about the founding of CNN, said the network’s early bosses would have heavily frowned upon the idea of journalists drinking on air, or even showing aspects of their personality. On the other hand, she said, there was plenty of drinking going on behind the scenes in those years.
But anchors and reporters “are not just news people anymore,” Napoli told The Post. “They are personalities, too,” she said. “They have to have this persona, so if part of that persona involves watching how [they] let loose on New Year’s Eve then I guess that’s part of the brand building that everybody sadly has to engage in.”
Frank Sesno, a former Washington bureau chief at CNN, argued that journalists taking shots on television is “simply out of character with personalities they try to be the rest of the year.” Network journalists “don’t need to be doing shots to have personality, get into the assignment, and have fun, ” he added. “It’s New Year’s Eve, after all.”
Costello said she is all for the ban on on-air drinking, though she’s glad it doesn’t apply to her. “Thankfully, I can freely drink with no guilt since I am no longer a CNN anchor,” she said.