CNN has to preempt its news-cycle focused special for the breaking news

By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links

Due to extended coverage of the Alex Murdaugh murder trial verdict, CNN preempted its planned 9 p.m. “CNN Primetime” special “Jill Biden Abroad” Thursday, March 2, 2023.

The special, hosted by Sara Sidner featuring an interview with Biden and Arlette Saenz, will now air Monday, March 6, 2023.

The broadcast will also feature coverage of First Lady Biden’s trip Namibia and Kenya. She will discuss her priorities of addressing drought and hunger in the region, thoughts around the 2024 election, criticisms over her husband’s age in potentially running for reelection, the Biden family and the role of First Lady.

Instead of the Biden special, CNN aired an extended edition of “Anderson Cooper 360” focused on the trial verdict.

“CNN Primetime” is CNN’s new 9 p.m. offering. It features a rotating cast of anchors and correspondents covering a variety of topics driven by the news cycle, according to the network.

“Primetime” previously featured an hour on the Murdaugh trial March 1, 2023, and sticking with live coverage was almost unquestionably the right move.

Feb. 28, 2023’s “Primetime,” the debut of the series, featured a pre-recorded interview with Bill Maher that was not directly tied to any specific news event. The Biden interview was also pre-recorded and does not appear to be tied to a specific news event either, though both interviews are or appear to be tied to ongoing news topics and discussion.

The Murdaugh special was done live and featured timely coverage of the trial which, at that point, had not gone to the jury.

“CNN Primetime” is being billed as a news-focused alternative to the conservative commentary program “Hannity” that airs on Fox and the news analysis and commentary shows “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “Alex Wagner Tonight” on MSNBC.

However, as noted, the bulk of the “Primetime” content offered thus far has been taped and not tied directly to the news of the day. Two were interview-driven and the other, on the Murdaugh trial, featured commentary and analysis alongside briefer amounts of straightforward reports.

There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that CNN was forced to preempt the airing of a taped interview during a timeslot whose content is supposedly driven by the news cycle for breaking news.

In essence, the “real” news cycle (the verdict) interrupted CNN’s “pre-planned” news cycle (the Biden interview).

That said, preparing in-depth, quality content does take time and cannot always be done live. The Biden interview was arguably more tied to the news cycle than the Maher one, though, by its nature, could not address any developments that happened between its taping and the airing, at least using the original interview footage.

There are also cases where celebrities or other newsmakers prefer taped interviews over live ones. Some journalists would even argue that taped interviews that are then edited down actually make for better content since there is the opportunity to explore more topics than could be done during a live interview, with only the most newsworthy responses making the final cut.

Taped interviews can also lend perspective and depth to ongoing news topics, which can be just as relevant as specific news events.

The Maher interview was, notably, a rather bizarre choice for a news program debut — and also had the scent of “corporate synergy” given that Maher’s “Real Time” aired on HBO, which is owned by the same parent as CNN.

CNN itself carries a “post-show” segment of “Real Time” on Fridays.

CNN has also taken to issuing what it calls “media usage rules” that attempt to dictate how other outlets can use clips from the “Primetime” specials, including tight controls over digital use around the world.

These rules can largely be seen as “suggestions” given that it’s well-established that media outlets, including CNN, are free to use brief clips from other networks, even with the material is copyrighted, as part of “fair use” for the purpose of news coverage and commentary.

In another element of irony, the Maher interview failed to generate much buzz, making the mandates CNN attempted to create even more irrelevant. The network issued similar rules for the Biden interview. It’s not clear how much buzz the interview would have generated had it aired in its original timeslot and the preemption could mean the special becomes less or more buzzworthy, depending on what happens between now and its airing.

At least some in the industry have been left wondering why CNN is bothering to issue such guidelines, given that most news organizations are likely to continue their existing practices of using excerpts from other networks. In some ways, it feels a bit like the network is trying to drum up extra buzz and making the specials seem more buzzworthy than they actually are.

It’s also possible this is an edict that’s resulted as a result of the combination of WarnerMedia and Discovery, leading to the new parent Warner Bros. Discovery.

The network did not respond when asked about the media usage rules.