The sight of Christiane Amanpour reporting from conflict zones in the Middle East is one of the most familiar images in television news. So it will be a real change of pace for viewers when she's seen as a relaxed traveler — and mother — in Back to the Beginning, a two-part special airing Dec. 21 and 28 (9/8c, ABC). Amanpour and her son Darius hit the road earlier this year to explore the ancient sites depicted in "the oldest stories ever told," as she puts it. They take an archeological tour through Turkey and the Middle East to examine the sites of biblical tales that unite rather than divide the followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Amanpour talked to The Biz about the special and her new boss at CNN, Jeff Zucker.
TV Guide Magazine: We're used to seeing you in times of crisis. What made this the right time to take a reflective journey to trace Bible stories?
Christiane Amanpour: My whole career has been about war and conflict — mostly born out of a misinterpretation of religion and the use of religion as the weapon of choice and the excuse for why we cannot get along and why political divides remain so far apart. The truth of the matter is, we have a lot in common, and if we chose and if we had the right leadership, we could, I believe, solve our issues. Having grown up in Iran before the Islamic revolution with a Muslim father and a British-Catholic mother, and having then 20-odd years after the revolution married a Jewish-American, and in the interim having covered all this religious conflict — I feel that I just know in my gut that it doesn't have to be this way.
TV Guide Magazine: A few years back you did a very successful in-depth documentary for CNN on the rise of political religious conflict around the world.
Amanpour: God's Warriors. And now, seven years after, I feel the need to explore the other side of the story, which I've been mulling over for so many years. Why is it that Jews and Christians believe in Isaac? Muslims believe in Ishmael. We all believe in Moses. I'm not here to say whether God existed or didn't, whether the Bible is true or not. But the stories that were handed down are the very backbone of not just our faith but our moral code of conduct and the culture that binds us as people.
TV Guide Magazine: The ABC special is the TV debut for your son. He has the makings of a young correspondent.
Amanpour: I'm glad you think so. I have always kept the lines very clear between my professional life and my personal life. I've never been one to sort of run around with my child for any reason whatsoever, other than being a mother. But it was his summer vacation in June when this started and at first, I wanted to just take him on a trip with me. Then I realized — this is why I'm doing it. My son has all three faiths running through him by virtue of my heritage and my husband's heritage. He's 12-and-a-half and this ended up being a fantastic journey for him. And he had no training, by the way. It's not like we coached him in his little videos or his writing.
TV Guide Magazine: There's been a change at the top at CNN. How are you feeling about that? What do you hope Jeff Zucker might bring to the organization?
Amanpour: A new start, a new dose of energy. A new commitment by a new leader is something that is coming at exactly the right time.
TV Guide Magazine: Has he reached out to you?
Amanpour: Absolutely. Of course.
TV Guide Magazine: People who cover the industry write about CNN as if it's falling apart. But you're someone who's represented the brand worldwide. It must seem like there is a disconnect between this notion that it's sagging here and what it means to people around the world. Do you know what I'm saying?
Amanpour: I do. CNN has a brilliant and noble tradition and it is a phenomenal brand. It's where people turn to know what's really going on. It is news and it is not ideological. Others can do their opinion, and I'm not making any judgment. But there needs to be a place in the cable universe where you can turn to know what's happening in your backyard and around the world.
People have been writing a lot of stuff about CNN, some of it true, some of it not, some of it gratuitous bashing. However, I do think that [outgoing CNN worldwide chief] Jim Walton did a hell of a job for the network. He made it even more solvent than it ever was. CNN.com and digital has really exploded on to the world stage and done really well. It is time to go into the new phase and Jeff Zucker has come along at that time to reposition the brand. Like America being an indispensable nation, CNN should be the place for indispensable, hard news and credible analysis of U.S. and global events. And that's what I think and that is what Jeff Zucker wants to do.