Memo to Amanpour

When ABC announced on March 18 that CNN’s chief international correspondent, Christine Amanpour, would become the new host of This Week, it was unexpected news to say the least.  This Week, last hosted by political insider George Stephanopoulos has traditionally stayed inside-the-beltway to match the other networks’ “Sunday shows.” Washington Post style columnist Tom Shales went so far as to suggest that the choice “could create so much consternation that [ABC News President David] Westin will be forced to withdraw Amanpour’s name and come up with another ‘nominee’ for the job.”

I think Amanpour was a savvy choice. Aside from the fact that she’s a good journalist, Westin’s idea seems to be that This Week can carve out a niche on Sunday morning for intelligent talk about U.S. foreign policy.  Dan Drezner agrees, and I agree with Dan (though I’m really tired of the idea that “most Americans just don’t care that much about foreign policy”).   

However, just increasing “the focus on foreign policy” won’t, on it’s own, bring success.  Here are a few ways Amanpour might better distinguish This Week when she takes over in August:

  • Embrace the Long View – Running a weekly TV show in a ever-shrinking news cycle, you’ll have already lost the battle to win viewers with timeliness and lost it bad.  By the time they get to Sunday, they’ll have already read a stack of inch-deep stories on almost anything you’d be reporting on. Why not give them something they’re not getting inundated with elsewhere — a magazine-style long view on TV? The original incarnation of This Week was called Issues and Answers, which sounds like a better idea to me.  Your show should have a long memory and far gaze. Take people to task for something they’re inherently bad at, building long-term solutions to slow-moving, but serious, problems.
  • Focus on the Global Challenges Others Aren’t – Frankly, creating a show that focuses on foreign policy isn’t that novel an idea. In fact, Fareed Zakaria hosts one (with a terrible name) on Sunday mornings too. What would be novel would be to skip some of the day-to-day tick tock of the security issues we face and give some time to broader, chronic foreign policy challenges like climate, population, women’s and children’s health, energy and food security, and development.  These issues are usually covered in one-off, documentary-style specials.  Make your guests step back and look at them properly and pragmatically, considering long-term strategies and effects.
  • Bring on Younger, Innovative Thinkers – If you want to really differentiate yourself from the other Sunday shows, step outside the beltway, talking-head crowd, who, for the most part, recirculate ideas they’ve heard inside the beltway.  If someone says something you’ve heard elsewhere, don’t bring them on again. Reach out to the budding crop of online commentators who have distinguished themselves in a competitive marketplace through the strength and innovativeness of their ideas.  I live in Guatemala, but UN Dispatch’s own Mark Goldberg is always available. The goal should be expert insight not talking points.  
  • Integrate Better Online – Don’t just use your website as a dumping ground for your TV content. You don’t have to just be a TV show; for lack of a better phrase, you can be a whole thinking community.  If you’re going to take the long view, keep track of the ideas and results in an innovative way online.  Engage those who don’t catch your show on Sunday through the myriad other methods available.  There’s a huge community out here waiting to hear what you’ve got to say.

Photo: CNN