After a year on the job, former NBC destroyer of worlds and current CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker is ready to shake things up at the 24-hour news network. The plan apparently is to turn CNN from a network that has gotten bogged down by poorly reporting the news and turn it into a network that poorly reports the news in between episodes of reality shows.
“We’re all regurgitating the same information. I want people to say, ‘You know what? That was interesting. I hadn’t thought of that,’” Zucker said. “The goal for the next six months, is that we need more shows and less newscasts.”
Zucker—“rhymes with hooker,” he likes to say—also expanded on comments he has made about breaking CNN out of a mindset created by historic rivalries with MSNBC and Fox. He wants the network to attract “viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E.”
So instead of being the laughing stock of TV journalism, CNN can now be the laughing stock of sh*tty reality TV networks. This major shift means that many familiar programs, including many on sister network HLN, will be facing the axe. This includes courtroom scream queen Nancy Grace and noted British asshole Piers Morgan.
In September, Zucker tapped cable veteran Albie Hecht to run HLN. Hecht, who has no real background in news, has specialized in entertainment programming at the helm of Nickelodeon and Spike TV.
“By this time next year, you’re going to be looking at a whole new HLN,” a network source said…
Bolstering Zucker’s case for change, CNN’s most-watched show is the food-centric travelogue “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and its third-most-watched program is Morgan Spurlock’s “Inside Man.” Both have little to do with news.
On the flip side, “Anderson Cooper 360” is the network’s second-highest rated show.
It remains to be seen how this will go down. This is the gentleman who thought it would be a great idea to run The Jay Leno Show and took NBC from first to worst during his tenure as president. But at the same time, CNN is considered the worst by many and any sort of change could be a benefit to the network.
I figured the best thing I could do is provide a few things that Zucker could do immediately to improve CNN from the current product.
1. Survivor: CNN – If the point is to bring some more reality shows onto the network while rearranging or ejecting some of the older elements, I say why not get some ratings in the process.
Put all the CNN talent onto a desert island for a week and have them duke it out for their jobs. The only catch is Nancy Grace has to stay no matter the outcome.Perhaps Wolf Blitzer can put that name to good use and unleash the beast on the rest of his co-workers.
I also see a way to use the high-tech election night holograms in order to stretch the budget a bit. I’d tune in just to see Piers Morgan take a coconut to the face.
2. Use Anderson Cooper As Your Lead - Wolf Blitzer certainly has seniority, but he is regularly the target of much scrutiny and could be replaced to boost likeability to the news. Enter Anderson Cooper. He’s already pulling in some of the better ratings on the network and has shown that he has the chops to be a news general the way Blitzer was during the Gulf War. The current Blitzer product is like a flopping fish with a beard.
Don Lemon is on the rise and being placed in a prime time slot, the time would be right to give Cooper his boost. His daytime talk show failed, but journalism is his wheelhouse. Integrity and likeability could be the pep CNN needs in their main coverage. I would miss that sweet beard though.
3. Export Piers Morgan - I know his name is on the possible chopping block already, but the sooner he leaves the airwaves the better. Larry King had that meandering, personable interview style that Piers Morgan just seems to lack. The guy is pretty grating and comes off as the complete opposite of what King represented. That’s not saying King was perfect in any way, but the show should’ve died with his departure.
I’d tune into to an Alex Jones hosted interview hour though. Nothing but Jones yelling at guests and not letting them get a word in edgewise. Put it on twice a night and I guarantee you’ll get ratings on curiosity alone.
4. Quit Trying To Be Hip – Cable news is not a go-to place for the 18-35 demographic. Zucker’s digital push is a good way to hold firm on the Internet front, but efforts to talk about buzz and trends on TV have always fallen flat. So why even attempt it? I feel that being good at what you do and putting out a professional product is much more important than trying to coax an uninterested demographic poorly.
Stop reading tweets on the air and quit trying to make Twitter the main driving force behind your programming. I haven’t met one person who actually enjoys that and most probably spend most of their time trying to get stupid joke tweets on the air. And as important as Twitter can be a journalistic tool, it is still raw news that is unverified and could lead to errors. That leads me to my final point…
5. Be Good At Reporting The Damn News – You’re most likely not going to beat Fox News in the ratings and you can’t win by stooping to the same tactics MSNBC uses. The best thing is to be the best at reporting the news without fault. The need to break news hardly seems to matter with so many outlets at the disposal of the viewer. Rushing to break news has been a double-edged sword in the past for CNN and it still hasn’t helped them gain in the ratings. So why not strive to be the most reliable news.
Have these viewers who are tuning in to watch Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock know that if news breaks, they’ll find out and they’ll find out from the most reliable source they can find. No need for loud talking heads or moral outrage debates when you have the best news possible pumping out 24/7 behind a surge of original programming.
Zucker seems to have an idea for where he wants to go, it just remains to be seen if he will be able to get there. It’s a gamble, but I look forward to seeing it in the near future. Or at least reading about the crushing failure online.
(Lead image via gettyimages)