CNN in Disarray: Lemon’s Sour Ratings & Licht Wants Barkley, King to Save Network

News & Politics

Chris Licht’s CNN tenure has been nothing short of a disappointment. Having promised to tone down the laser focus on only a few stories a day, partisan sensationalism, and snark that dominated Jeffrey Zucker’s reign of terror, Licht implied wholesale changes were in order. 

Not only has he failed thus far, but the inmates remain in charge of the asylum (despite layoffs and the ushering out of John Harwood and Brian Stelter) and his top programming change in CNN This Morning has been beset with infighting and putrid ratings.

And, as such, Licht continues to meander in the wilderness reshaping its primetime schedule and, according to Puck’s Dylan Byers in recent weeks, has included overtures to CBS Mornings co-host and Democratic donor Gayle King and the NBA on TNT’s Charles Barkley.

First, CNN’s morning mess. Licht announced September 15 that, after nine years, New Day would be cancelled in favor of what was soon after dubbed CNN This Morning with Don Lemon taking a demotion from weekday primetime to team up with fellow longtime CNNer Poppy Harlow and chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Byers noted that the show was comically pitched as “three genuine, in-real-life friends” delivering the news and, between Collins making the huge leap and little leeway between the announcement and their November 1 launch, the show has been a failure.

After it debuted to a middling viewership, it continued to decline. A February 2 story in the New York Post revealed that, back on December 8, Lemon berated Collins after the show for repeatedly interrupting him. The Post said Collins became emotional and fled the set and has since wanted to keep interactions with him to a minimum.

Tuesday’s show provided evidence little has changed as Lemon subtly trashed Collins for her interview of Congressman Jim Comer (R-KY).

The Wrap’s Loree Seitz and Joseph Kapsch wrote Friday that this trainwreck is CNN’s “lowest-rated morning show iteration in nearly a decade” and “the lowest viewership among adults 24-54….since ‘New Day’ was launched in June 2013, according to Nielsen data.”

“[W]ithin just over the show’s first three months, ‘CNN This Morning’ was down 16.2% in total viewers and was down 21% in the demo compared to the most recent iteration of ‘New Day,’ which ended in late October 2022,” they added.

They laid out a timeline of ratings of all four iterations of New Day (click “expand”):

2013: CNN launches “New Day” in June with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira


From “New Day’s” June 13, 2013 launch to its final program with the three hosts on Dec. 28, 2014, the Cuomo/Bolduan/Periera iteration started from scratch with a total average viewership of 305,000 total viewers and 102,000 viewers in the advertiser coveted key demo.

2014: Ratings rise as Bolduan steps out and Camerota steps in 


Between Dec. 29, 2014 and Dec. 25, 2016, the Cuomo/Camerota/Pereira combination boosted “New Day” to average 435,000 total viewers and 136,000 viewers in the key demo over the two year period — marking a 42.6% increase in total viewership and a 33.3% uptick in the demo.

2016: “New Day” hits peak as Cuomo/Camerota duo reigns 


During its two year period, the Cuomo/Camerota duo was responsible for a 38.8% uptick in total viewers and a 52.2% increase in viewers in the demo as compared to from Cuomo/Camerota/Pereira iteration with an average total viewership of 604,000 and average demo viewership of 207,000 from Dec. 26, 2016 and Dec. 30, 2018.

2018: Ratings slow as Berman swaps in for Cuomo


From Berman/Camerota’s run from Dec. 31, 2018 to Dec. 27, 2020, the pairing averaged 586,000 total viewers — down 2.98% from Cuomo/Camerota’s numbers — and 149,000 viewers in the demo, a 28% decrease as compared to Cuomo/Camerota.


2020: sAnother [sic] duo pairing sees Sustained [sic] fall


Within the iteration’s programming from Dec. 28, 2020 to Oct. 28, 2022, the Kielar [sic]/Berman pairing averaged a total viewership of 474,000 and a viewership of 105,000 in the demo — down 19.1% in total viewership and down 29.5% in viewership in the demo compared to Berman/Camerota’s ratings.

As for the content side, Licht suffered an early failure when his trial run with Jake Tapper in primetime never took off, during which Byers said he had aspirations to lure a (liberal) comedian like Jon Stewart. In January, Semafor reported that wish had some legs to it.

That hasn’t come to fruition. As such, Byers reported on January 31 Licht moved on to King (click “expand”):

Licht has indeed been eyeing big talent beyond cable news . In recent weeks, he has approached Gayle King, the star of CBS Mornings, to pitch her on hosting or co-hosting a weekly show on CNN, sources familiar with the discussions told me. Licht brought King to the CBS morning show a decade ago, when he was its executive producer, and the two remain close. The proposal currently under discussion would allow King to continue anchoring CBS Mornings while also hosting the new weekly show for CNN—a situation not unlike the one Anderson Cooper has with the two networks, where he hosts a nightly show on CNN and also serves as a correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes.

The King of Prime Time?

King’s appeal is obvious. She is a celebrity in her own right, with several landmark interviews on her resume. She’s also the rare talent who would be as comfortable interviewing Joe Biden or the family of Tyre Nichols as she would be with a Will Smith or Jennifer Lawrence. In that regard, she probably has more potential than anyone in the media to become CNN’s next Larry King (Gayle King Live, anyone?). And, to the extent that there is still demand for that kind of programming, a Gayle-centered interview series could provide a much-needed boost to CNN’s ratings and reputation.

On Wednesday, Byers offered an update that “[t]hose talks” with King “are ongoing” while Licht also holds “talks with a number of other on-air talents from the worlds of news, entertainment and sports who might host weekly, news-oriented” to create a slightly different lineup for each night of the week.

Friday provided another Byers bombshell in revealing Licht’s talks with Barkley, stating Licht’s pitch for the personality on sister network TNT would mean “interviewing newsmakers, journalists, and other guests about various topics of the day.”

“The conceit is that a genuine, outspoken, often humorous figure like Barkley might be a bigger draw than the traditional self-serious newsman, and might be better suited to ask guests the kinds of questions that average Americans actually care about,” Byers added, noting that it’s might seem “insane…but it really isn’t” given Barkley’s interest in politics and as “a student of media.”

Taken all together, Licht has adopted the strategy of throwing anything and everything at the wall and hope something sticks.

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