Is CNN rethinking its primetime approach?
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In early January 2023, multiple reports began circulating that CNN is considering reshaping its primetime lineup with a new approach — weekly shows helmed by big names.
The idea, at least according to the reports, would be that the network would have one host on Mondays at a certain time, with another one on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
In some sense, this would make the schedule look more like the “big three” networks — which typically air different entertainment programs each night of the week rather than the same show in the same time five nights a week.
Cable news, meanwhile, tends to use the latter model, which relies on personality-driven shows in primetime that air Monday through Friday. One notable exception is MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” which has switched to a one-weekly Monday broadcast, with “Alex Wagner Tonight” airing in the timeslot Tuesday through Friday.
Because CNN discussions are likely still in the early stages, it’s not clear if this would become the plan for all primetime hours or one or two.
Licht has already announced plans to overall CNN’s dayside programming into two distinct blocks of news — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Each would have its own anchor team and would only be interrupted by “Inside Politics” midday.
That change is expected later in 2023.
One possible reason for switching to a weekly schedule for at least some of primetime would be that the network could attract big name hosts in the hope of drawing in viewers.
Many of these hosts would likely command high paychecks, but having them only once a week could add some measure of cost control. It would also give hosts the ability to have a bit more flexible production schedule, perhaps even taping shows a few hours or even days in advance. Schedules could also be coordinated with their other commitments.
It’s also worth noting that while King’s name is being tossed around (neither she or CNN would respond to multiple outlets’ requests for comment), this wouldn’t necessarily mean she’d leave “CBS Mornings.” Often anchor contracts allow them to work on other projects for other networks. CNN also is already sharing Anderson Cooper with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” so the two networks have at least some precedent for talent-sharing arrangement.
Of course, the network could also opt to pre-empt any primetime shows in the event of breaking news.
Currently, CNN’s low-rated schedule includes “Anderson Cooper 360” at 8 p.m. eastern, another hour of “The Situation Room” at 9 p.m. (in addition to its earlier 6 p.m. airing) and two editions of “CNN Tonight” at 10 and 11 p.m., each with separate hosts.
Cooper has been a mainstay on the network for years, so he could potentially remain in place and the 9 p.m. round of “The Situation Room” could be seen as a temporary way to fill an hour, as could the generically-named “CNN Tonight” editions.
Overall, the current primetime lineup feels a bit haphazard and patched together and ratings haven’t been outstanding on this format either, which could make it prime for a shakeup.
Another sign that the network is looking to tinker with its primetime schedule are recent specials that have been airing on select nights in early 2023. CNN had been doing this prior to Licht taking over, often with town-hall style programs or in-depth looks at a single topic.
The 9 p.m. eastern hour, which is considered one of the most competitive in cable news, has been notably filled with news-focused specials in recent weeks, including a one-on-one with Bill Maher scheduled for Feb. 28, 2023 and an in-depth legal look at the Murdaugh murder trial that’s on the schedule for March 1, 2023.
These specials have not, unlike the purported other plans Licht may be mulling for other timeslots, not relied on big-name talent but rather draw from existing CNN staff.
This approach is notably different from anything airing on MSNBC or Fox at that time — or for most of primetime.