CNN announces election schedule changes that could also be a hint at its future direction under new leadership

By Michael P. Hill Article may include affiliate links

CNN has announced a series of programming changes seemingly triggered by its previously announced morning shakeup and a way to ramp up election coverage — but also provides possible hints at the network’s future direction.

The 9 p.m. eastern hour will remain branded as “CNN Tonight” and will be anchored by Jake Tapper from Oct. 10, 2022 to Nov. 11, 2022.

Tapper currently hosts “The Lead” and “State of the Union.”

“The Lead,” in turn, will be handed over to current “New Day” anchors John Berman and Brianna Keilar on a “fill in” basis.

CNN recently announced that Berman and Keilar would exit “New Day” at some time in the fall but remain with the network in other roles.

The 9 p.m. hour has been filled with rotating anchors under the “CNN Tonight” banner since “Cuomo Prime Time” was canceled after its anchor, Chris Cuomo, was fired in late 2021, starting a series of odd scheduling challenges for then-incoming CEO Chris Licht to tackle right out of the gate.

At the same time, current “CNN Newsroom” afternoon anchor Alisyn Camerota and chief legal analyst Laura Coates will co-anchor a two-hour block of “CNN Tonight” from 10 p.m. to midnight eastern.

The 10 p.m. is currently known as “Don Lemon Tonight” and anchored by Don Lemon, who was announced as part of a trio of new morning anchors in the network’s upcoming morning show reboot.

That means “Don Lemon Tonight” will effectively be canceled, leaving an hour to fill.

In addition, “The Situation Room” will gain back an hour that “The Lead” took from it in 2021, airing from 5 to 7 p.m. eastern.

The rest of CNN’s afternoon and evening schedule will remain the same, with “Erin Burnett OutFront” at 7 p.m. and “Anderson Cooper 360” at 8 p.m.

Although not mentioned in the network’s announcement, it’s hard not see this as a way for CNN to test the waters with different talent and programming as it is facing ratings challenges and talent shuffles that leave some awkward holes in the schedule.

If the new anchors don’t mesh, the network will be able to fall back on saying that everything was meant to be temporary until the end of the election.

However, Tapper’s star has been on the rise at the network, with his show getting more airtime and also anchoring major coverage, so the network could be eyeing the key 9 p.m. timeslot as a permanent home for him.

Moving Berman and Keilar to evenings will presumably allow the network to test how well they do in front of a different daypart, despite having failed to gain momentum in the mornings. Berman and Keilar frequently anchor from different locations, New York and Washington, D.C., respectively, which some media watchers have noted creates a lack of natural interaction between the two that many viewers expect in the morning.

Expanding Blitzer’s show back to two hours is perhaps the most interesting announcement. Blitzer was once considered one of the network’s lead anchors, but appeared to be taking more of a backseat role in recent years as he is presumably nearing retirement. Tapper acquiring one of his hours in 2021 was perhaps one of the biggest hints that Blitzer’s role was being reduced.

Neither CNN nor Blitzer have commented about his potential future with the network.

Blitzer did, however, anchor an hour-long evening newscast on the short-lived CNN+ streamer called “The Newscast” for less than a month earlier in 2022.

Adding an hour back to “The Situation Room” could be a way to better capitalize on its investment in Blitzer’s talent and salary (depending on his deal with the network, which is not public, he may be getting paid to anchor two hours of programming despite CNN+ shutting down and therefore “The Newscast” as well).

It’s also easy to see how this could be setting up a new schedule that, assuming everything resonates well, will simply become permanent, perhaps with a few tweaks, after the election.

Moving Lemon to mornings could be viewed as a way for executives to start clearing the primetime schedule from some of its more opinionated anchors in favor of a different flavor of cable news, something the new owners Warner Bros. Discovery have expressed interest in.