Next week will mark six months since Jeff Zucker took over from Jim Walton as president of CNN Worldwide. It was a move that showed tremendous promise for anyone who’d hope to see a return to form for the once-pioneering, now-struggling cable news network. Indeed, for anyone who believes, however foolishly, that serious journalism may once again rise above the din of polarized punditry on TV news, the thought of CNN clobbering its rivals at Fox and MSNBC is particularly appealing.
But if the appointment of Zucker -- known for his nose for personality-driven news and willingness to make bold programming choices -- has raised many hopes, the recent direction of CNN may not be enough to keep them up. Granted, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and six months is not much time to reinvigorate (or is it rehabilitate?) a brand as stagnant as CNN. However, between John King’s botched Boston bombings coverage, Wolf Blitzer insulting an atheist tornado victim, and Piers Morgan forgoing coverage of Sen. Wendy Davis’ Texas filibuster in lieu of a segment on blueberry muffins, the network’s efforts to bolster its image have faced one setback after another.
From the looks of things, those failures also may include “New Day,” CNN’s new morning talk show, which features Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira. It’s Zucker’s biggest launch yet, but ratings during its first week have been mixed at best. Although “New Day’s” viewership is an improvement over the same time period last year -- up 53 percent according to figures compiled by Mediabistro -- ratings have been down when compared to CNN’s 2013 average. In fact, according Zap2It.com, the show is underperforming compared to its timeslot predecessors, “Early Start” and “Starting Point.” In all likelihood, that’s not the direction Zucker wants to be heading.
What makes “New Day’s” sluggish start particularly painful is that the show falls so conformably within Zucker’s area of expertise. During his time at NBCUniversal, he was the youngest-ever producer of NBC’s “Today” show, which became the most-watched show on morning TV under his tenure. His ability to cull talent and build dynamic, personality-driven news shows is presumably one of the biggest reasons he was hired. Still, judging from some of the Twitter chatter surrounding “New Day,” the image problem persists.
@CNN new day morning show is awful. Please, we need national news in the morning. Now you're like all the other network shows. No reason.
â€” Joe Landry (@jlandry2025) June 27, 2013
T3 RT @egsrollingpin: CNN new day is awful. Trayvon trial tracker? Classy
â€” Chris (@cjdyal) June 27, 2013
â€” Adrian Hickman (@adimike55) June 27, 2013
Ok CNN... Enough with "New Day"
â€” 9th Ward 5⃣0⃣4⃣ (@EnGee16) June 27, 2013
Such social media ribbing is by no means unusual for CNN. In April, when it ran a weeklong roundtable experiment called “(Get To) The Point,” the series was downright ridiculed on Twitter, written off as a low-rent answer to Fox News’ “The Five.”
Despite such obvious image and ratings hurdles, CNN has made progress under Zucker’s reign. “Parts Unknown,” Anthony Bourdain’s new food-centered travelogue, performed well enough to get renewed for a second season. Even more impressive is that, after spending what seemed like an eternity in third place, CNN spent much of the spring beating MSNBC in the ratings. Granted, it’s still nowhere near ready to take on the ratings powerhouse of Fox News, but even Zucker predicted it may take three years before that goal is reached, according to Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee.
If it means living in a world where more viewers choose news over punditry, we can wait.
CNN Worldwide is part of the Turner Broadcasting System, a unit of Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX).