In Depth: What now for CNN at 8pm?
I disappear for 24 hours and all hell breaks loose on CNN. The news of Campbell Brown leaving her show, first reported on Mediaite, was big news, not because Brown is departing CNN but because the timing was totally unexpected.
In the years to come CNN’s handling of Brown and that timeslot should serve as a stellar example for up and coming programmers of how not to roll out a new talent in a new timeslot. To say that the format was in flux would be a massive understatement. Brown’s two maternity leaves – particularly the first which kept her from joining CNN until the middle of the election season which Chris Ariens correctly noted yesterday kept Brown and CNN from giving her show an identity until the elections were over – changing producers and the show’s format from straight news to more of an opinion based show and then back to straight news again all combined to prevent the show from gaining any traction with the viewers. From start to finish Brown and the show were mishandled. It’s almost like CNN hired Brown without really knowing what it wanted to do with her. The only positive thing that CNN can take from this Charlie Foxtrot is that Rick Sanchez might still be anchoring weekends had he not been tapped as Brown’s first fill-in during her first maternity leave. He took that assignment and built on that and parlayed it into a M-Fr show. But in terms of abject failure, CNN’s handling of Brown and her show was even worse than its handling of Paula Zahn’s 8pm hour. In Zahn’s case the network tried everything over a much greater time span.
But the failure of 8pm and Brown should drive home the lessons CNN didn’t learn from Zahn’s tenure. Assuming that CNN doesn’t do a “Crossfire” return of some sort, up against Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, and Nancy Grace CNN needs a strong personality that makes waves while still being in CNN’s straight news stable. If this doesn’t sound like a job description tailor made for Rick Sanchez, I don’t know what does. Say what you will about Sanchez and his shtick, and I’m not that big a fan, he’s a better fit for the new cable news landscape at 8pm than either Brown or Zahn were. No wonder Brown wanted to move the show to 7pm. She was right in her assessment.