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WATCH: CNN's Cooper, Lemon Explore Their Roots in Special Program

WATCH: CNN's Cooper, Lemon Explore Their Roots in Special Program

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Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon both deal with some grim family history in Roots: Our Journeys Home.

Lifeafterdawn

CNN is taking a page from the broadcast breakfast shows and devoting some of its 24 hours to showcasing the ancestry of 13 of its hosts and anchors, including two high-profile gay anchors, Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon.

A series of segments that began on CNN October 12 will culminate in a two-hour special Tuesday at 9 p.m. Eastern, titled Roots: Our Journeys Home.

While Chris Cuomo follows his family's roots back to Italy, Anthony Bourdain explores his South American ancestry, and Michaela Pereira looks to Jamaica for clues to her heritage prior to her adoption in Canada, both Cooper and Lemon deal with the fact that their families were involved in slavery.

Neither Cooper nor Lemon address their sexuality in the segments available online, nor did Cooper in a recent appearance on the PBS series Finding Your Roots, hosted by author and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.

Cooper's search for his ancestors goes beyond his famous mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, and the history of the wealthy Vanderbilts, who started as indentured servants on Staten Island and gained wealth and fame as riverboat and railroad pioneers. He explores how his great-great-grandfathers fought in the Civil War, one in defense of the Union and another fighting for the Confederacy. A visit to long-forgotten cemeteries alongside a distant cousin brings Cooper to the tombstone of a relative on his late father's side who not only owned a dozen slaves but was murdered by one.

Lemon's mother, Katherine, accompanies him on a journey that CNN says "takes him from a Louisiana plantation to the hub of the transatlantic slave trade in West Africa." A video clip shows the anchor weeping openly as he reflects on what their experience in Ghana meant to him: "I have such a wonderful life. I am so blessed and so fortunate. I want all those people who think that they can't survive. ... I want to show people that isn't true, you can do whatever you want."

At the anchor desk, with the words "Door of No Return" serving as a backdrop, Lemon is joined on set by his mother to discuss what it was like to pass through that doorway where Africans begin a transatlantic voyage ending in their enslavement. Both tear up as they summarize the lessons they learned from this emotional search for their roots. Lemon also has written a first-person account for Black America Web and recorded audio to accompany it.

Some media observers wonder if the series and special will shore up CNN's ratings. The networks's numbers have fallen along with those of its rivals over the last five years. The New York Times reported earlier this month that both Fox News and CNN are down 13 percent in total audience in prime time over that period. Although big stories, such as the missing Malaysian airliner earlier this year, racial tension in Ferguson, Mo., this summer, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict have boosted CNN's ratings 60 percent over 2013, TV Newser reports this is the Atlanta-based cable network's least-watched year since 1996, in terms of total viewers per day.

Given that CNN is run by Jeff Zucker, the former NBC chief who once led the Today show to prominence, it's no surprise to some network insiders that the second-place all-news cable network would utilize one of America's morning show staples -- turning its focus away from newsmakers and toward its own personalities -- in an attempt to boost those ratings.

Shelley Ross, an award-winning former executive producer at ABC and CBS, last week posted her opinion of CNN's effort on her Facebook page, writing, "Their new take on news: themselves. Is there no grown-up in the room to say 'noooooooo.' 'Roots' going to hurt, not help your anchors. Collective cringe in this house."

Anyway, you can make up your own mind about tuning in tomorrow night by viewing these two segments from the CNN series below. There's also a clip from Cooper's appearance on PBS's Finding Your Roots.

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The Advocate's news editor Dawn Ennis successfully transitioned from broadcast journalism to online media following another transition that made headlines; in 2013, she became the first trans staffer in any major TV network newsroom. As the first out transgender editor at The Advocate, the native New Yorker continues her 30-year media career, in which she has earned more than a dozen awards, including two Emmys. With the blessing of her three children, Dawn retains the most important job title she's ever held: Dad.
The Advocate's news editor Dawn Ennis successfully transitioned from broadcast journalism to online media following another transition that made headlines; in 2013, she became the first trans staffer in any major TV network newsroom. As the first out transgender editor at The Advocate, the native New Yorker continues her 30-year media career, in which she has earned more than a dozen awards, including two Emmys. With the blessing of her three children, Dawn retains the most important job title she's ever held: Dad.