CNN Plans to Sober Up Boozy New Year’s Eve Coverage

As 2022 goes out, so too will a recent holiday tradition: During CNN’s broadcast of various New Year’s Eve celebrations, Don Lemon probably won’t be downing shots on camera.

The Warner Bros. Discovery-backed news outlet wants to pare back some of the zany antics that have become a staple of its wee-hours coverage of the last night of the year. While Anderson Cooper will still be able to imbibe during primetime hours — along with his co-host Andy Cohen — while the duo holds forth in Times Square, correspondents and anchors who may have slurped down alcoholic concoctions on camera (or off) in the past will be required to halt the practice.

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The network’s coverage of New Year’s Eve was a topic of a town-hall discussion held Tuesday between CNN staffers and Chris Licht, the company’s chairman and CEO, according to people familiar with the meeting. The coming New Year’s Eve broadcast will be CNN’s first under Licht’s aegis.  During the event, Licht told employees he felt on-camera drinking eroded the credibility of CNN personnel and damaged the “respectability” they may enjoy among viewers. CNN declined to make executives available for comment.

And yet, the site of Lemon and co-hosts like Brooke Baldwin — now departed from CNN — has been something that has gained traction on social media and generates plenty of viral chatter.

CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage isn’t the most watched thing on TV that night — Ryan Seacrest’s ABC program typically wins bigger TV crowds — but it has become a part of the holiday., Cooper has held his New Year’s Eve duties longer than the ABC host and has been an auld lang syne fixture since 2002, driven initially to embrace the idea by his own ambivalence about the occasion.

New Year’s Eve is often “too difficult, too stressful to go out. There’s something mildly depressing about it. It often ends badly for a lot of people,” the anchor told Variety in 2020. But the Times Square broadcast, he believes, lets audiences celebrate without risking a bad night. “It’s two people standing out in the cold and rain and watching things happen. Funny things happen, and plenty of things happen, and that’s it. It’s a fun night out, and that’s really all you can seek for New Year’s Eve.”

In recent years, Cohen’s influence has helped lighten the mood. The Bravo host isn’t shy about drinking, gesticulating or ranting. He has used the CNN New Year’s Eve platform to rail against former New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio or to cajole Cooper into taking more shots than is probably advisable for a TV anchor hosting a national broadcast.

If Cooper and Cohen veer towards tipsy, Lemon tends to lean in decisively. He has led CNN’s coverage of the holiday after 12:30 in the morning, when things tend to get more raucous. One year, Lemon got his ear pierced on live TV. In last year’s show, he went on a rant, telling viewers he was a “grown-a– man” who was “able to share my point of view on television and it freaks people out and you know what,” he said. You can kiss my behind, I do not care. I don’t care.” He was flanked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota and comedian Dulce Sloan.

The anchor has long maintained he is in complete control of himself on camera. “The idea is to have fun. What can I do that’s interesting and engaging for the audience?” Lemon told Variety in 2018.  “I do realize if I’m going to get a tattoo, I am making that decision.” His new role on CNN’s retooled morning program may have executives rethinking how much fun he ought to have in plan view. CNN has not said whether Lemon and Camerota will be present for this year’s coverage.

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