Why did CNN hire disgraced ex-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker for its new 8 p.m. show?
“Apparently Madoff wasn’t available,” deadpans CNN exile Aaron Brown (Class of ’05), king of the caustic soundbite.
Brown, the Walter Cronkite Professor of Journalism at Arizona State, labels CNN’s return to opinion-driven programming at 8 p.m. as “a ratings play, pure and simple… I don’t really believe [it] will accomplish a thing but that is just me.”
Depending on how CNN fills the 9 p.m. slot — now in play following Larry King‘s announcement last week that he’s stepping down — the struggling network can “redefine its concept,” according to Brown. “They have to be less boring and more compelling.”
Like Brown, many believe CNN must reinvent itself in prime time in order to staunch hemorrhaging ratings. Some, like Syracuse University pop culture expert Bob Thompson, say the network “has already cried ‘uncle’” on its down-the-middle mission.
At 9 p.m., there are two obvious options — hire a younger, hipper, glitzier host or ditch the somnolent chat format in favor of a faster-paced, multi-guest/topic show.
“Long-form interview shows like King’s for a general audience are an anachronism,” says network-news analyst Andrew Tyndall. “The interview shows that work now have a more narrow subject matter – usually politics or a political slant.”
True enough, unless CNN can wrangle CBS’s Katie Couric, who’s keeping her options open.
Bodog Online Sportsbook currently lists her as the 2-1 co-favorite (with Piers Morgan). Face it, if she wants it, it’s hers. Couric would kill at 9 p.m. Game over.
Tyndall’s dark horse is ABC White House ace Jake Tapper, passed over for “This Week” by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Quick reality check: Tapper’s contract isn’t up until 2012.
Tapper “was shafted by ABC,” says Tyndall. “It would be good musical chairs – he goes to CNN, Amanapour goes to ABC. CNN wins in that trade.
“Of all the mainstream TV journalists at the moment, Tapper is most in tune with how to combine old-fashioned journalism with new media social networking and online reporting.”
Marc Berman, senior TV analyst for Media Week, argues that CNN should keep King’s format intact, “no if’s, and’s or but’s.” Tinkering with such an entrenched foundation would alienate core, older viewers. (See Couric, Katie.)