Jeff Zucker was hired by CNN to hopefully do what he did during his tenure at the Today show—transform a low-rated program into a ratings leader.
After Zucker took the helm, he began to tinker with the network’s lineup by dropping Soledad O’Brien’s morning show and bringing in Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan to compete against Fox and Friends and Morning Joe on MSNBC. Despite the new hosts and new set, the show hasn’t been able to gain much ground on its competitors, and it remains in third place.
Zucker has had more success with Jake Tapper. Tapper, who was previously at ABC News, hosts an afternoon show that in the latest quarter vaulted into second place, ahead of MSNBC’s Martin Bashir, and helped put CNN ahead of MSNBC in the overall daytime ratings.
One show that isn’t working for Zucker is his relaunch of Crossfire. Zucker thought that the time was right to test a new version of the show with rotating hosts—Newt Gingrich and S.E. Cupp on the right, and Stephanie Cutter and Van Jones on the left.
After a brief ratings surge when the show first aired, it is down 33 percent in the demo compared to the same period last year, when The Situation Room occupied that time slot.
It could have been worse, but Zucker hedged his bet by carving out a half hour from The Situation Room rather than give Crossfire its own hour. That may have been the best decision he made about the show.
While Crossfire is flailing about, Zucker’s biggest problem is CNN’s struggling primetime lineup, which remains unchanged from last year. It continues to wallow in third place behind Fox News and MSNBC.
Zucker doesn’t need to shoot for the stars—beating Fox News—but instead should focus on putting together a lineup that could possibly beat MSNBC. That feat is eminently possible, but he should do it sooner rather than later in order to best capitalize on the interest in the mid-term elections next year.