What will CNN do with the 9 p.m. hour now that Chris Cuomo is gone?
By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links
9 p.m. eastern is considered one of the most competitive and important hours for cable news in primetime. Fox typically dominates the ratings with “Hannity,” with MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” often performing well.
Thought CNN often trails its two competitors in the hour, “Cuomo Prime Time” would sometimes manage to sneak up on MSNBC and was also one of the network’s highest rated shows overall.
CNN has some possibilities to fill the spot — though none really stands out as the most likely and could trigger challenges in other dayparts.
First could be Jake Tapper, who currently anchors “The Lead,” which expanded to two hours in January 2021, displacing the first hour of Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room,” which once formed the crux of the network’s afternoon to early evening programming.
Blitzer had often been viewed as the network’s de facto lead anchor and given high profile assignments such as election night coverage, but the January schedule change appeared to be a not-so-subtle nod that Tapper’s star was rising. Blitzer, who is 73, and has been with CNN since 1990, could be considering a transition into retirement.
Therefore, it seems unlikely that Blitzer would get the 9 p.m. hour permanently, though he could be a temporary host.
It’s possible the network would make “360” two hours again or move up “Don Lemon Tonight” an hour. An entire schedule overhaul could also happen, basically keeping the talent lineup the same, but moving shows around the clock and making one add an hour.
However, moving “The Lead” to 9 p.m. using its existing format would mark a notable departure from the content that appears on primetime cable news, which tends to focus more on analysis, commentary and interviews.
“The Lead” is centered around a look at top stories in various categories of the day, as its name suggests.
That said, CNN could consider shaking things up significantly at 9 p.m. with a more news-based program to differentiate from personality driven opinion and analysis shows. At one time, MSNBC offered a hard news, hourlong newscast at 9 p.m.
Other possibilities include using former NBC and MSNBC anchor Kasie Hunt in some capacity. She had previously been hired as a correspondent and anchor for CNN and will anchor an unnamed show on the network’s forthcoming CNN+ streamer, though a time has not been announced, something that could affect her ability to appear on CNN proper.
Since former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams announced he would leave the network at the end of 2021, there has also been wide speculation that he could land at CNN and CNN+. However, it’s also possible the network could consider him to take over the 9 p.m. hour.
Michael Smerconish, who filled in for Cuomo frequently, is another possibility, though perhaps not quite as likely given he doesn’t have the familiarity as some of the other possibilities.
CNN could ultimately also take a similar approach it did when “Cuomo Prime Time” was created: Test out some shows, formats and hosts until making a final decision.
“Cuomo Prime Time” initially got a one week trial in 2017 before returning for a month in 2018. At the time, Cuomo was still co-anchoring “New Day,” the morning newscast he joined CNN to co-anchor in a high profile move from ABC News.
When “Cuomo Prime Time” was made permanent, he departed “New Day.”
Since Cuomo’s departure from mornings, the network has shuffled through a variety of anchor combos, with none of them managing to post huge ratings growth. John Berman, who took Cuomo’s seat at the anchor desk, has filled in during primetime as well, and might be a more distant possibility to move to 9 p.m.
There’s also the possibility CNN goes an entirely different direction with the 9 p.m. hour and pulls someone else from its current talent bench or brings in someone entirely new.