Alums of Canceled CNN Show Taking Center Stage
Once upon a time, nearly a decade and a half ago, CNN executives cast a vision for a political talk show featuring the next generation of political journalists. “Take Five” was the younger, hipper version of the legendary “Capital Gang.”
But there was one major catch.
Take Five was a political talk show by young people, for young people airing on … Saturday night. The show was relatively short-lived but may have been ahead of its time.
The show’s alumni, including a former Roll Call cartoonist, are now in some of the most influential positions in political journalism.
It launched in March 2001 and featured two permanent co-hosts, Salon.com’s Jake Tapper and Michelle Cottle of The New Republic, plus a panel of contributors who rotated each week.
“I think the main lesson I learned is that you don’t create a show targeted for younger audiences and then put it on Saturday evening,” recalled former Washington Post national political reporter and Take Five contributor Terry Neal. “I also learned I had a lot of really smart friends. So many people who were on that show went on to really big things.”
“The producers did a good job of targeting up-and-coming talent,” added Neal, who now runs his own communications consulting business.
Tapper, who drew Roll Call’s Capitol Hell cartoon for nearly a decade and did the cover for the paper’s recent 60th anniversary issue, went on to become senior White House correspondent for ABC News before returning to CNN to anchor “The Lead” on weekday afternoons.
Tapper also just took the helm of CNN’s Sunday morning show, “State of the Union,” and he isn’t the only recovering Take Five member to have a prominent weekend slot. Then-Time political correspondent John Dickerson is the new anchor for CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
“What I learned from Take Five is that you can have a lot of fun on television,” said Jonathan Karl, ABC News’ chief White House correspondent and a former Take Five contributor. “The show was short-lived, but I always had a great time doing it.”
At the time, the show’s panelists probably didn’t imagine that future political discussions would take place on camera in the West Wing. Former Time magazine contributor and Take Five alum Jay Carney served as President Barack Obama’s press secretary for more than three years and fielded questions from Tapper, Dickerson, Karl and others. Carney is now senior vice president for worldwide corporate affairs for Amazon.
While the show never took off, it became a television testing ground for a crop of young political writers. “They were trying something new,” Tapper told TV Guide Magazine in 2013. “It was pretty good for what it was — young people trying to get their feet wet.”
“I think it would have continued,” Tapper recalled. “But our last show was Sept. 8, 2001. And then Tuesday the world changed and certainly what CNN was running 24/7 changed. … After 9/11, a show with young people talking about politics and pop culture was not as important as going live to Islamabad, which made sense to me.”
“In retrospect, I realize what a great opportunity it was. It really was a different and interesting idea,” said Tamala Edwards, who was then a Time magazine contributor. “I would never have guessed I would have a future in TV.”
Edwards, who credits CNN executive Lucy Spiegel for identifying and cultivating her talent, went on to ABC News and is now weekday morning anchor at WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.
The Take Five opportunity meant a lot to some of the lower-profile panelists.
“I was very excited about the prospect of Take Five because I thought that the conversations about politics that my friends and I were having over drinks after work weren’t being reflected in the discourse,” said Desa Philadelphia, who was then a correspondent for Time magazine. “Although I don’t think my perspective as a black immigrant really came through on the show because we weren’t on long enough for the show to really evolve; I think my being chosen to be a part of the ensemble was evidence of the diversity of conversations that needed to be aired.
“So what I took from the show was an interest in really seeking out the perspectives that aren’t being reflected in the mainstream,” Philadelphia continued. “I think before that I was really trying to fit in as an ‘American’ journalist, but I really came to appreciate the different perspectives I bring to [the] table, and those of people like me, and people who aren’t like me.”
She is now on staff at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and a principal at Language Fish LLC, a communications consulting firm.
New York Post editorial page writer Robert A. George was a permanent “Take Five” panelist. Other rotating contributors included then-Weekly Standard senior editor Christopher Caldwell, Terra Strategies Chairman and CEO Felix Sanchez, and Danielle Crittenden, managing editor of blogs for Huffington Post Canada.
In full disclosure, I was an associate producer on the show (helping Abbi Tatton, who went on to Google), tried to run the chyron for multiple shows and sat in Tapper’s chair for 10 minutes during a rehearsal.
“Mostly I learned that I am not talk-show-host material,” joked Cottle, who is now a senior writer for National Journal. “That said, the producers’ relentless mantra that I wear ‘jewel tones’ was spot on.”
Correction 2:04 p.m.
An earlier version of this article misstated which publication John Dickerson worked for when he appeared on the show.