You’ll soon be hearing it: CNN has left the building.
The network can no longer afford to be in Atlanta’s landmark CNN Center.
Instead, after more than 35 years, CNN operations are going back to where they began in 1980, the Techwood Turner Broadcasting campus in midtown Atlanta.
That’s where Ted Turner, an offbeat guy who inherited a fortune from his dad’s outdoor advertising business, was co-founder of what was then a unique idea: 24/7 cable news telecasts.
“Chicken Noodle Network” is what legacy media members sneered as young, hungry, somewhat disorganized CNN reporters dared invade the old-timers’ reporting turf.
But guaranteed steady revenues from cable subscriptions, coupled with sales of advertising and growing viewership, allowed CNN to make its mark.
In 1987, the network had prospered to the point of occupying and dominating what was known as the Omni Center, built in 1976 and mostly vacant when Turner and crew moved in.
And what a place it was!
A giant atrium welcomed visitors to shopping, dining, and tours of CNN telecasting facilities.
The atrium featured a theater with continual showings of the 1939 Atlanta-based classic “Gone With the Wind.” Rights to that film and other classics had recently been purchased by Turner from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios and that was the genesis of what was later to become the Turner Classic Movies network.
CNN Center grew into a much-visited Atlanta tourist attraction even before the College Football Hall of Fame, World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium and Centennial Olympic Park came to the neighborhood, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“That building and that real estate is part of the postcard of Atlanta,” according to A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress. “Ted created an entire industry here and helped build the city’s international status.”
Indeed, shortly after CNN Center opened, I was involved with a friend in production of a promotional video for Atlanta-area real estate. CNN Center, we learned, was a place we needed to film, since it was a new, exciting city hotspot.
On a private tour of CNN telecast facilities, I was told that the network’s Atlanta location gave it an editorial slant different from the predominantly liberal presentation of the news from media in the New York-Washington axis.
We all know how that turned out and how CNN later earned names like “Clinton News Network” from Rush Limbaugh and another, harsher, name: “Communist News Network,” followed by demise in viewership.
But the early days of CNN were reflected in the compelling CNN center, the network’s worldwide reach, and its mainstream acceptance following its continual coverage of the 1991 Gulf War.
Having captive audiences in front of single-channel airport television sets didn’t hurt.
CNN Center was a reflection of the showmanship of Turner. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recalled how the network’s afternoon talk show “Talkback Live” originated in the atrium of the building from 1994 to 2003.
“Putting ‘Talkback Live’ in that fishbowl in the middle of the atrium was clearly a stupid idea,” according to the first host of the program, Susan Rook.
“It was sometimes amazing, sometimes chaotic and sometimes head-scratchingly ‘What?’
“I felt like I was always on the creative edge,” said Rook, who was on the program from 1994 to 1997.
The worldwide reach of the network, plus the simple CNN logo on the building, created what some called that “postcard of Atlanta” concept and brought international fame to the city.
Former CNN president Tom Johnson described himself as “heartbroken” over the network’s departure from CNN Center.
“So many of my friends tell me how they’re going to miss that wonderful CNN logo on top of CNN Center,” Johnson said. “It just meant so much to us.”
For some network employees, departure from CNN Center has been a shock. Former executive producer Tenisha Tidwell described it as like receiving a phone call “and finding out your parents were selling grandma’s house.
“No! You don’t sell grandma’s house! I had so many memories there, the laughter, the people,” she said.
So, what happened? Why no more CNN at the CNN Center?
There are multiple reasons. For one thing, CNN operations in Atlanta have been drifting away, according to the Journal-Constitution. They’re now in that coastal elite axis I referred to earlier, with network headquarters now in New York.
To cut costs, AT&T, CNN’s parent company until last year, sold CNN Center in 2021 to a pair of Florida real estate companies: CP Group and Rialto Capital Management.
Also, the pandemic diluted demand for downtown Atlanta office space, the Journal-Constitution said.
Then there’s CNN itself. It’s no longer the glamour child of the Turner years (Turner Broadcasting sold it to Time Warner in 1996).
The excitement of the CNN Center has been gone for a while, the future of the building isn’t known, the network itself is a mess.
The skyline of Atlanta is changing with the loss of the bright CNN logo marking one dimension of the city’s place in the world.
But I imagine the CNN name will remain in the minds of many in Atlanta as they talk about the building that formerly housed the network.
It’s just like Chicagoans still call that Willis structure on the west side of the Loop by the name it lost in 2009. To them, it’s still the Sears Tower.
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