Don Lemon's premiere as an early-morning host on CNN this week is a ratings disaster
On Tuesday, November 1, CNN's revamped three-hour early morning show, titled CNN This Morning, co-hosted by former prime-time host Don Lemon, premiered to dismal ratings. This was despite massive promotion and several marquee guests, including a rare live interview with Pennsylvania Democrat candidate for the U.S. Senate John Fetterman and iconic former NBC Today show host Bryant Gumbel.
When the Nielsen cable television ratings were in yesterday, this was the bad news for Lemon, his co-hosts (Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins), CNN, and the channel's new CEO Chris Licht. Citing the official viewership stats, a source at Fox News, who shared a copy of Nielsen's ratings, noted:
CNN's debut of ... CNN This Morning ... failed to reach even half a million total viewers and landed in last place among all categories, every single hour. From 6-9 AM ET, CNN drew 387,000 total viewers and 71,000 in the 25-54 demo. Despite major guests amid the biggest news cycle of the year, the debut of CNN This Morning was beat by 90 Day Fiancé, The Andy Griffith Show, House Hunters, Little People Big World and more, coming in at #38 in all of cable and losing to every program on the Fox News Channel.
CNN's promotional show card for its new morning show. Poppy Harlow, Don Lemon, and Kaitlan Collins.
Principal host Den Lemon has retired his necktie and now sports a more casual look.
Lemon hosted a live two-hour prime-time program on CNN (10 P.M.–12 A.M. E.T.) for eight years before being reassigned to the channel's revamped morning show last month. TV critics described this as a demotion, while Lemon insisted it was a promotion. The veteran host's final ratings-challenged program in prime time on October 7, Don Lemon Tonight, had 473,000 total viewers and 112,00 viewers in the 24–54 demographic — paltry numbers that still exceeded his ratings on the new morning show.
A lot is riding on CNN's new morning show. As the Detroit News reported before its premiere, "'CNN This Morning' is the first major initiative under CNN Chairman Chris Licht, who took the reins in April after a successful run at CBS, where he turned around the network's morning news program and Stephen Colbert's late night show."
IndieWire titled its article on the CNN morning show's disappointing ratings "CNN's New Morning Show Is Not Off to a Sunny Start in Ratings":
CNN's new-look morning show needs an early jolt of caffeine. The ratings are in for "CNN This Morning" with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow, and Kaitlan Collins, and they got off to a rough start, lagging behind not only rivals like "Fox & Friends" and "Morning Joe" but also its predecessor on CNN, "New Day."
"CNN This Morning' debuted to an average of 387,000 total viewers, according to Nielsen numbers. Of that all-in tally, 71,000 came from the key news demographic of adults 25-54. On its final day of Halloween, "New Day" averaged 353,000 total viewers; of that number, 75,000 came from the main demo.
For all of October, "New Day" averaged 404,000 total viewers (anyone age 2 and older) and 78,000 in the demo. From a year-to-date perspective, the "CNN This Morning" series premiere was down 6 percent in total viewers and -17 percent in the demo.
CNN, and MSNBC (which broadcasts Morning Joe during the same early morning hours), is facing tough competition. On Tuesday, November 1, FOX News Channel's FOX & Friends, which has been #1 in its time slot against CNN and MSNBC for more than two decades, delivered 1.5 million total viewers, and 236,000 in the coveted 25–54 demographic. On MSNBC, meanwhile, Morning Joe came in second with 793,000 total viewers and 114,000 in the demo. As is often the case, FOX & Friends continued its streak in beating both CNN and MSNBC combined during the competitive 6–9 A.M. E.T. time slot.
The debut of CNN's Lemon/Harlow/Collins morning show was expected to do better. As Mediaite reported, "CNN heavily promoted the show before its launch and touted its new early morning star power." Indeed, it's an axiom that a premiere of a new cable news program with fresh hosts, thanks to the weeks of advance hype it receives and audience curiosity, generally enjoys improved ratings over its predecessor initially as viewers check it out — while often settling into more stable, lower ratings as time goes on. This was not the case with the premiere of CNN This Morning.
IndieWire's analysis seems close to the mark:
"CNN This Morning" is one of new CNN chief Chris Licht's first big programming plays since he was appointed as chairman and CEO in May, gambling that by moving Lemon off his struggling primetime slot and Harlow up from her 9 a.m. slot on "CNN Newsroom," their personalities could be better served in the morning slot and revitalize "New Day." The move was necessary as "Don Lemon Tonight" was in last place among viewers across CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC in both hours. [emphasis added.]
Not only were Lemon and his co-hosts' new show a disappointment in Tuesday's ratings, but their debut had fewer viewers than what the previous incarnation of the show, New Day with Brianna Keilar and John Berman, was averaging. As Mediaite reported, Lemon's, Harlow's, and Collins's show was "down from the 404,000 total viewers and 78,000 demo viewers CNN's New Day averaged in October."
CNN's new morning show is a major test for the channel's new CEO, Chris Licht. As Vanity Fair reported in a fawning Oct. 28 profile of Licht, "'I Like Our Chances': Chris Licht Stresses Relevance Over Ratings to Kick Off CNN's New Morning Show":
It's fair to say the stakes for CNN This Morning are high. Part of that is because the morning is what made Licht an industry hot shot, first with Morning Joe and later with CBS This Morning, which Licht executive-produced before entering the late-night ring with Stephen Colbert. He has identified the morning as a top priority of his broader network overhaul since joining as CEO this past spring. He's even brought on his former CBS This Morning comrade Ryan Kadro, who is shepherding the reboot along with executive producer Eric Hall. The trick is that Licht now finds himself playing in a much smaller arena than he's used to. The morning broadcast shows tend to perform in the range of 2.5 to 3.5 million total viewers, depending on the network. Fox & Friends, which leads cable news in the a.m., is generally in the universe of 1.5 million. Over at MSNBC, Morning Joe usually hovers in the high six figures, while CNN's current morning offering, New Day, is lucky to do half of that. In the 25- to 54-year-old age bracket that advertisers care about, it would be a win for New Day at this point to break into the six figures.
As Forbes added in an article about the disappointing debut of CNN's new morning show:
"There is no stronger combination of talent than Don, Poppy and Kaitlan to deliver on our promise of a game-changing morning news program," said [Chris] Licht said when the new show was announced back in September. "They are each uniquely intelligent, reliable and compelling; together they have a rare and palpable chemistry. Combined with CNN's resources and global newsgathering capabilities, we will offer a smart, bold and refreshing way to start the day."
Meanwhile, there is uncertainty and upheaval in CNN's prime-time schedule, now under the control of Chris Licht. Yesterday, in an exclusive article, "CNN's Primetime Plans Hit Snag as Jake Tapper Plots Return to Afternoon Show," Variety reported that Jake Tapper, tapped to take over the coveted 9 P.M. E.T. prime time hour (which he moved into early last month), is planning to return to his afternoon slot (4–5 P.M. E.T.) right after next week's elections. That move will leave that critical hour wide open, while Lemon's former 10 P.M.–12 A.M. slot, now anchored by Alysin Camerota and Laura Coates, is struggling in the ratings.
Lotsa luck with all of that, Chris Licht. You will need it.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who has covered national politics, the politics and economics of health care, popular culture, and media for over five decades. His web page with links to his work is http://peter.media. Peter's extensive American Thinker archive: http://tinyurl.com/pcathinker. Follow Peter on Twitter: @pchowka.