Today CNN made a big deal about its new primetime lineup of AC360 at 8pm ET, tape at 9pm, and a new news show called CNN Tonight at 10pm. But what wasn’t emphasized is that this move shows CNN is still testing the waters to see what works. I’ll explain…
When you have a disparate group of unrelated taped shows airing every night five days a week you have no consistency. CNN has come up with the new slogan “Go There” which as slogans go isn’t very convincing since we don’t know where “there” is. Somewhere, I suppose..but “Go Somewhere” just doesn’t have the same oompf that “Go There” has. But like CNN’s new slogan, its 9pm lineup lacks cohesion. What will probably happen is some tape will do better than other tape and that tape will be emphasized and the tape that doesn’t give good enough ratings won’t be. It’s still an experiment for the network no matter how much it tries to emphasize the move as a new direction.
This isn’t the first time Zucker has done this. He did it at MSNBC back in 2004 during the Olympics when he killed off most of the network’s live and very underperforming primetime in favor of tape. That move worked to a point as the tape gave the network higher numbers at the cost of less overhead…a win-win from a certain point of view; the view that being live in prime isn’t necessarily as important as you think it is.
Ovbiously Zucker hopes a similar situation will happen here. Piers Morgan’s show was wildly inconsistent in the rating and it’s a pretty safe bet that whatever tape CNN airs at 9 should perform at a higher average. The open question is whether that average will be enough to move CNN out of 3rd place in non-breaking news cycles. I have my doubts that CNN can topple Maddow at that hour relying solely on tape.
Left unsaid is how the network will handle breaking news at that hour and how that breaking news will mess with the ability of the channel to establish those shows on a consistent basis. What does CNN do if it has to break tape in the middle of one of its 9pm shows to cover breaking news? Does it repeat the episode the following week since it couldn’t air the full episode on its scheduled air date? And Take a look at Crossfire the past few weeks. It hasn’t been on because of MH370 coverage. This does have the potential of frustrating viewers who want to tune into those shows as well as complicating the ability to establish consistent programming at that hour.
At 10pm we see still more CNN experimentation. Yes, they announced a new show. That’s not the experimentation. The experimentation is the rotating group of hosts CNN will use. I fully expect within six months to a year that the 10pm hour will be unified under a single host. Zucker obviously is not certain who to put there so he’s giving a select group of talent a chance to seize the hour for their own.
This does raise the question about the rumors that Bill Weir was hired away from ABC with a primetime show clause in his contract. If there was such a clause I would expect Weir to be one of the rotating hosts (setting aside the obvious follow up question of whether being a rotating host really satisfies that rumored primetime show clause or not). Actually I expected Weir to be in the mix regardless of a primetime clause or not since he hasn’t been doing much regular work on the channel since he arrived.
So, despite today’s emphasis of a new direction for CNN, the underlying truth is business as usual…CNN is still testing the waters in primetime.