Of all the people CNN could conceivably bring aboard, Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain probably wasn't too high on anyone's short list. But this is the first hire the all-news network has made in a good long while that feels like an inspired choice.
As CNN's continued primetime ratings troubles indicate, this network is badly in need of a better talent mix in front of the camera. While Bourdain is slated to take his act to the cabler's weekend schedule, there should be "No Reservations" in Atlanta about having him contribute elsewhere, perhaps even beyond the food and travel subjects that are his primary areas of expertise.
Why not have him wander away from the restaurants to cover human-interest stories that aren't in his wheelhouse per se? He's clearly smart enough to stretch his intellect, and his irreverent manner will lure viewers far more effectiuvely than the endless parade of seemingly interchangeable empty suits that populate too many hours on CNN.
Now that doesn't mean Bourdain should go toe to toe with Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room." Taking a sober, neutral approach to politics is central to CNN's brand. But the brash attitude that MSNBC and Fox News Channel have incorporated into their political coverage in recent years is what CNN needs to infuse in as many beats outside politics without diluting the objectivity of its own coverage.
But to distill the opinionated style that is so clearly clicking with audiences on rival channels and import it to other coverage arenas--that's a growth area where CNN can differentiate itself from the competition. And Bourdain has the outsized personality to make such a strategy work. His well-stamped passport also matches up nicely with CNN's global focus.
The more CNN strays from its traditional recipe for bland programming, the better off it will be.