Should Larry King Retire from CNN?
There has been much discussion the last year or so about the ratings decline at CNN. Since Lou Dobbs left, the numbers if anything have gotten worse, perhaps making Lou seem like the only smart one in the bunch. Christiane Amanpour wisely signed on to ABC to host This Week, and likely to do more journalistic work much more in the public eye. All this against a background of CNN slipping to third in the news channel ratings, now behind MSNBC.
This New York Post article talks about the situation with Larry King to some extent. He is signed through mid 2011, and he pretty much seems to have no desire to retire. Yet, the numbers are in and things seem to be pointing only one way for CNN as a whole and a weeknight schedule that is tied around his 9PM prime time talker.
In this New York Times article, you can see that the latest ratings show that “Mr. King’s audience dropped 43 percent for the quarter and 52 percent in March. He dropped to 771,000 viewers for the quarter from 1.34 million in 2009. More alarming perhaps, Mr. King, whose show has been regularly eclipsed by Rachel Maddow’s on MSNBC (and is almost quadrupled by Sean Hannity’s show on Fox), is now threatened by a new host, Joy Behar on HLN (formerly Headline News.) “. Effectively, CNN’s main network is being eaten up by it’s sister channel, the inappropriately named “headline news” which is also more of a talker than a news channel anymore.
Right now the tide is against CNN for many reasons. Foremost is that the Obama revolution has started to galvanize people to the right and center right, away from the more liberal / centrist opinions of the CNN on air staff, and more towards the left leaning fox news or the more strident groups at either end of the spectrum. Celebrity interviews and such are nice, but the current culture of instant TMZ and Perez Hilton gratification makes Larry King’s interviews often out of date or over taken by events even as they happen. The lead in from Campbell Brown is soft, and even Anderson Cooper is losing out, dropping audience even as he has traveled around to cover the news such as in Haiti. The other issue for CNN is that viewers trust them for the news, but they seem to tune away from their talkers. With a soft news cycle for the last year or so, it has been hard for CNN to get people to tune in when there isn’t news.
Finally there is King himself. At 76 years of age, has he reached the point where he can no longer connect with a younger audience? I can’t imagine too many people under 40 wanting to tune in to see what grandpa has to say, and I think that this is key to the overall decline of CNN. With King’s show right in the middle of the evening, it makes it hard for viewers to stay tuned in for the whole evening of programming. I personally cannot stand to listen to Larry King, even during one of his “breaking news” shows where CNN somehow feels obligated to let a talk show host deliver news and interview people. He is enough to make me tune out, and apparently many others are doing the same.
My suggestion for CNN is this: Give Larry King his retirement party already. Put the news hour back at 8PM, start Anderson Cooper’s show at 9PM, and then bring in some actual talk show magic at 11PM to compete right in the time frame people are more comfortable with celeb talker shows. Maybe try out Joy Behar at that time. Stop trying to out talk Fox News, that isn’t going to happen. The liberal / centrist message isn’t strident enough to amusing enough to keep viewers, Fox has that market sewn up and MSNBC is working hard to get the other part of it. CNN needs to just go back to what they do best, update their on air staff to people under 70, and give it another shot. Sorry Mr King, but even a king needs to know when to cede his throne.