CNN’s Incredibly Risky (for AC360) Programming Overhaul…

The more I thought about CNN’s mega programming changes, the more I realize what an unnecessarily huge gamble the network is taking today.

The risk is primarily due to the scope of the changes. Every hour from 4-11pm is changing save two. This is extremely atypical programming behavior.

Networks don’t like to make wholesale changes unless their backs are up against the wall and they have nowhere to go but up. That clearly is not the situation CNN finds itself in today. You can argue about primetime being an issue for the network but it’s not a make or break problem financially speaking.

Typically cable news networks will make one or two changes at a given time and are averse to making more – not without good justification. The more changes you make, the higher the risk level you take on because more pieces are at play and more pieces need to deliver for the change to succeed. All one has to do is look at MSNBC dayside’s history since launch to see how unsuccessful wholesale change can be as a programming tool.

Because of all these changes AC360 should now be considered “under threat”. It loses its live 10pm airing and moves to 8pm, the fiercest and most fought over hour in cable news primetime. It went from a secure position at 10 to an unsecure position at 8pm. The network can back the show and its star all it wants but if the viewers don’t follow it to 8pm or, worse, it loses viewers compared to what it was doing at 10pm…CNN will have taken what had been a solid two hour base at 9 and 10 and destabilized it. Piers Morgan’s show is almost certain to escape without catching any collateral damage. But the damage to AC360 could be substantial, both in ratings and in terms of how the show gets written about going forward. Before it was “AC360 vs. On The Record” which was a storyline that the network, rightly or wrongly, thought played well in its favor. Now the storyline becomes “Can AC360 survive against the raging nattering nabobs O’Reilly, Olbermann, O’Donnell, and Grace?” That’s not a winning storyline from CNN’s perspective and certainly not nearly as favorable for it as the one it had going at 10pm. Worse, the network has to deal with the “You’re not live in primetime at 10pm now” stuff that’s going to come.

But AC360 is not the only show placed under the gun more so than it should have been. Erin Burnett’s show now has to deliver out of the gate. It cannot afford a grace period. The reason? It’s now the lead-in to AC360. If Burnett stumbles out of the gate…that affects 360.

360 needs all the help it can get at 8pm. This makes putting on an untested anchor in an unfamiliar scenario in a new show as the lead-in to your “must kick ass flagship show” at 8pm all the more puzzling. If you were looking to deliberately give 360 the worst possible start that you could, you’d be hard pressed to top putting on a newbie in a newbie format in a newbie show as the lead in. It’s the total antithesis to how you program in a highly contested timeslot.

It’s like building a house of cards. If one card is weak, it affects the ones above it. In this case there are two potentially weak cards here that could snowball and undermine 360. Not only does CNN have to worry about Burnett killing Cooper as a lead-in, it has to worry about the already under performing John King, USA killing Burnett as a lead in. If King drags down Burnett…Burnett could drag down Cooper…setting aside the argument about whether she might do that on her own.

This is why CNN’s programming changes are so incredibly risky. Everything has to work from the get-go. If it doesn’t the collateral damage could be significant and, in AC360’s case, totally unnecessary.

It would have been far less risky to do a phased in set of changes. Get Burnett in at 7. Move King to 8 or 6 but don’t move 360 in at 8 at this time. See what happens. Then if Burnett does well enough, then you can feel more confident in moving 360 without worrying about a draining lead-in.

But that’s not what CNN has decided on doing. It has opted for the wholesale all at once change. As a result, AC360 faces a much more risky and uncertain future at 8pm. It may all work out and then CNN will look incredibly smart for making this move. But if it doesn’t, it will not only have thrown early prime and late prime into turmoil but damaged one of the brands it couldn’t afford to damage. That, for me, makes it too big a risk to take.


6 Responses to “CNN’s Incredibly Risky (for AC360) Programming Overhaul…”

  1. Using American football jargon, I’m not sure whether CNN’s new line-up would be a “punt” or a “hail Mary pass”. Either way, I’m anticipating a mangled mess on the field and the dust will have to settle before we know which team has “first and goal” to go.

    I much prefer knocking an opponent head-over-skates into the boards.

  2. joeremi Says:

    They took a moderately strong show (AC360) up against their opponents’ weakest ones (Greta and Ed), and dumped it in with their strongest. Suicide.

  3. spdavid Says:

    As much as I like Erin I think prime time right off the bat is a mistake.She has no experience hosting a prime time or prime time lead in show.Her prior history is basically all business news but her new show will undoubtedly have a wide variety of topics that change each night.As for leading into AC360,I agree with the sentiment that this is taking a big risk.If Erin’s show doesn’t do well immediately it starts an avalanche of problems.And the giving up on 10pm seems a strange follow up to what is being billed as a strong program slate,like starting with a growl ending with w whimper.

    I give Erin at most two years before the show goes the way of others at 7 and 8 pm on CNN.If they have any sense they’ll give her an hour in dayside.

  4. thelowedown Says:

    A lot has been said already about CNN possibly moving AC360 up in order to keep Anderson working less hours but that doesn’t make sense for AC360.

    “The idea now is that we will probably be shooting two shows a day, three days a week,” Cooper said. “We will have enough shows on tape to cover a week if I have to go somewhere. I was in Egypt for a week or 10 days, and Japan as well. I know for a fact I will still be able to travel, and that is very important to me. If I go somewhere for a breaking news story, and there is something that may have interest for a daytime audience, we will bring some staff from Anderson, and do that.” — from TVNewser (

    It will shorten Cooper’s days overall when he is filming the talk shows, but he will also have many more days off the talk shows than he ever will doing AC360. Daytime talk shows routinely take off time during holiday seasons and non-sweeps time to air reruns. If anything, the sentiments mentioned in my top paragraph may help Anderson on “Anderson,” but could hurt the quality of AC360.

    Instead of nipping an hour off Newsroom and moving Wolf up (SitRoom used to be 4-7 Eastern before Rick’s List), if they really wanted to have Anderson at 8, then they could have done:
    4-6 or 5-6 Erin Burnett
    6-8 Situation Room
    8-9 AC 360
    9-10 Piers Morgan
    10-11 John King USA

    Personally, I like have an hour less of Newsroom, but I think CNN could have done this a lot. I also think Erin Burnett will have a good show on CNN, though not necessarily ratings wise. The most important thing in all of this though is that John King’s show needs a major revamping. I like him as a host and correspondent, but the format needs to be nuked. His show should be more like Wolf’s in terms of guests and hits in the studio, but in a seated setting like AC360.

  5. At least there’s no more CNN Newsroom at 4PM. One hour down.. 8 more to go. I hate that show terribly. It’s incredibly boring. It’s just one anchor, in the same studio, and no matter how many times Suzanne Malveaux starts her show “Live from Studio E”, it’s the same damn studio Suzanne Malveaux, Randi Kaye, Kyra Phillips, and Brooke Baldwin are using. They are all incredibly boring, except Brooke Baldwin (who is more like Megyn Kelly, and should be moved to compete with Megyn’s show.. especially since she is on maternity leave. Gives plenty of time for her viewers to check out other shows). The show focuses too much on soft news.. And hardly has any debates. It has “Political buzz” where a Republican, Democrat, and for some reason a Comedian has 20 seconds.. then 10 seconds to answer unimportant and useless questions in a comedic way.

    Pointless. That’s why I’ve been watching Fox News (and so has my Nielsen Box) during the day.

  6. […] would air at 7pm as part of a radical wholesale overhaul of early prime and prime. At the time I wrote this… Erin Burnett’s show now has to deliver out of the gate. It cannot afford a grace period. […]

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