CNN shakes up prime time in desperate effort to challenge Hannity and Maddow

In an attempt to end its chronic prime-time ratings slump, CNN is upending its weekday evening schedule with a new show intended to "energize the lineup" and "try and get better."  Those were the words of CNN's executive vice president of programming, Michael Bass, as he announced the decision to move morning anchor Chris Cuomo to the 9 P.M. E.T. slot this spring – a direct challenge to Sean Hannity on Fox News and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

The loser in this move – in addition to viewers put off by Cuomo's arrogant, predictable pro-left style – is longtime CNN anchor and onetime primary face of the network Anderson Cooper.  In 2005, Cooper, an eager young reporter fresh from his triumphant live empathetic coverage in the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, dispatched and exiled previous principal nighttime news anchor-personality Aaron Brown.  Cooper has reigned supreme in prime time ever since.

Anderson Cooper on AC 360°, CNN.

In the end, Cooper's earnest and pretty young face was not enough to overcome the main problem with CNN prime time: the ratings.  Over the years, Cooper's two-hour nightly show, AC 360°, and his hackneyed catchphrase "We're keepin' 'em honest," have grown stale.  On most nights, AC 360°, despite being the #1 program on CNN at night (which isn't saying a whole lot), struggles to attract even one half the number of viewers of each of its two major competitors on the Fox News Channel and MSNBC.  In January, according to Variety (which also published CNN exec Bass's disparaging quotes above), a tryout of a Chris Cuomo-hosted prime-time show at 9 P.M., the usual home of AC 360°'s second hour, delivered 392,000 viewers in the demo, easily matching Cooper's first hour (which typically loses viewers at 9 P.M.).  During the same period, Maddow averaged 678,000 viewers and Hanity 660,000.

For the week ending March 5, 2018, according to TVNewser, which publishes and interprets the numbers provided by Nielsen Media Research, CNN's prime-time ratings declined 3% compared to the same period in 2017, while MSNBC's numbers were up 12%, taking MSNBC to the #2 spot among all basic cable TV channels in total numbers of viewers.  The Fox News Channel maintained its long-term #1 position according to that metric.  On Monday, March 19, Cooper's hour at 9 P.M. had only 1.16 million total viewers compared to 3.11 million for Hannity and 3.17 million for Maddow.

In January, when Chris Cuomo was suddenly given a tryout at 9 P.M., cutting Cooper's usual two-hour nightly show to a single hour, I suspected that Cooper's days in that 120-minute time slot were numbered.  In television, you can't be a weak #3 against two competitors forever and expect to hang on to your position.  Ultimately, the ratings are unforgiving, and thirteen years is a long time to be in prime time when you're the perennial also-ran.  The fact is that Cooper's career, after a meteoric rise (or at least the appearance of one) at the outset of his joining CNN, has been on the downslide for some time now.

Anderson Cooper, fashion model.

Anderson Cooper will be 51 on June 3, and he has had a charmed life.  The son of fashion designer and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, he benefited from all of the advantages that come with wealth and position.  As a child and a young man, he was a model.  While in college, he was an intern at the CIA.  Some observers have posited that his association with the agency did not end there.

After graduating from Yale, Cooper roamed the world with a portable Sony Hi8 video camera and filed reports from obscure and dangerous places for the obscure outlet Channel One.  Eventually, he was hired by ABC News to co-host the overnight graveyard shift two-hour World News Tonight show.  He moved to CNN in 2001, and in less than four years, he supplanted Aaron Brown as the main prime-time host.  Ironically, Brown had started his own national network TV career as the host of ABC's World News Now seven years before Cooper took the same job.

After Cooper's move to CNN prime time in 2005, his career took off.  In 2005, for a fawning profile of Cooper in the New York Times, Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN U.S., gushed, "He is the anchorperson of the future."  In January 2007, Broadcasting and Cable reported that Cooper, whose ratings in the demo had risen 30%, had signed a contract with CNN to double his annual salary to $4 million.  His new deal also allowed him to contribute occasional stories to CBS's 60 Minutes.  CBS was also reportedly interested in hiring Cooper to co-host its two-hour morning program, but that never happened.  In September 2011, Cooper began hosting a syndicated daytime talk show, hoping to cash in like Phil Donahue, Oprah, Sally Jesse Raphael, and a number of others.  Thirteen months later, his fluffy program, Anderson Live, which by then he was forced to co-host with rotating celebrities in an effort to save it, was canceled.

Anderson Cooper in Italian Vogue, 2014.

In recent years, CNN's leftward lurch has not been rewarded with ratings success, particularly in prime time.  That crown has instead gone to bona fide leftist Rachel Maddow and her Resist Trump colleagues at MSNBC, who are unabashedly far left and make no apologies – while CNN is still crowing that it represents fair and objective as opposed to fake news, a bad joke as far as any serious media analyst is concerned.  CNN's ludicrous apple-banana TV ad is a case in point.  Fox News, meanwhile, adhering to its fair and balanced legacy, has maintained its overall supremacy in attracting total viewers while occasionally losing of late in certain prime-time hours to MSNBC in the demo metric (viewers aged 25-54) that is the one most attractive to advertisers.

Chris Cuomo.

Chris Cuomo, 47, a licensed attorney, is the son of the late Mario Cuomo, two-term liberal Democrat governor of New York.  Chris's brother Andrew is the current Democrat governor of New York State and is reported to be preparing a run for the presidency in 2020.  Chris Cuomo, who previously worked for ABC News, is another liberal who is expected to continue the leftward tilt of CNN prime time, while hopefully, in his boss's view, "energiz[ing] the lineup."

In recent years, Cuomo has been co-hosting CNN's morning show New Day (6-9 A.M. E.T.) with Alisyn Camerota, who spent almost two decades at Fox News and has remade herself at her new home on CNN as a reliable straight woman to whatever leftist co-host CNN throws at her.  She is now being joined on the morning shift by John Berman, who previously co-hosted CNN with Poppy Harlow from 9 to 11 A.M.

John Berman, Instagram, April 3, 2016.

In his second day on his new job, Tuesday, March 20, Berman came under criticism – from the Washington Post, of all places – for how he conducted a spontaneous live phone interview with a student at Great Mills High School in St. Mary's County, Maryland who called in to CNN while a gunman was loose and shooting at the school.  The student was immediately put on the air, and the interview fell to Berman.

Few media took note of the exchange, except CNN (which hyped it) and the Daily Caller and the Washington Post, which criticized it.  The Post headlined its story "CNN's Dicey Interview."  But first, the author, Erik Wemple, wrote:

The Erik Wemple Blog has watched hundreds of hours of John Berman interviews, during which time the host has proved himself to be among the most agile, knowledgeable and fair voices in all of televised news.  Anyone who leaves him off their year-ending top-media-people lists is missing something.

On top of the fact that Berman was conducting a live interview in a situation involving a shooting in progress (which is ethically and strategically problematic), he tried to get the student to continue talking even when the police started to lead the students out of their classroom to safety.  Policy in such situations calls for students to leave their possessions behind.  Despite his earlier gushing praise of Berman, this was Wemple's judgment of the Berman-student interview:

CNN engaged a student to pass along casualty stats from a school shooting, even though the student himself made clear that his own familiarity with the details was limited.  And then, when police showed up to escort him and his classmates from the school, CNN asked him to stay on the line, presumably to get a guided audio tour of the aftermath.  No!

At that point, ignoring Berman, the student hung up – live on the air.  Not exactly an auspicious second day for new CNN New Day host John Berman.  But ultimately, that's pretty much in sync with what CNN does 24-7.

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture.  He is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.

If you experience technical problems, please write to