CNN’s New Morning Strategy: More News, Less Banter

CNN spent years trying to compete in the cutthroat realm of chatty morning TV, cycling through formats in the hopes of catching up to breakfast-time staples like “Morning Joe” and “Good Morning America.”

That experiment never quite caught on with viewers — and now it is coming to an end.

In his first significant programming move since joining the network in the fall, Mark Thompson, CNN’s chairman, announced on Monday that the channel would exit the morning chat-show format by the end of the month. Instead, its morning lineup will focus on straight news coverage, the kind of bread-and-butter reporting that Mr. Thompson, a former head of the BBC and The New York Times, has championed.

The co-anchors of “CNN This Morning,” Poppy Harlow and Phil Mattingly, are in discussions about new roles at the network.

“I’m very aware that today’s announcement means a great deal of uncertainty for many valued colleagues,” Mr. Thompson wrote in a memo to employees, adding that “change and uncertainty are inevitable in an industry undergoing a revolution.”

Ratings for “CNN This Morning” has lagged far behind its competitors, according to data from Nielsen. The show has drawn roughly 322,000 viewers on average this year, well behind “Fox and Friends” (1.07 million) and “Morning Joe” (988,000).

Ahead of Monday’s announcement, CNN executives had acknowledged internally that the lackluster viewership and relatively high expenses necessitated a change, according to a person familiar with the discussions who would speak only on the condition of anonymity to avoid straining relationships. Mr. Thompson had pondered what to do about those problems for months, culminating this weekend when he informed Mr. Mattingly and Ms. Harlow of his decision.

In the memo, Mr. Thompson noted that CNN had “decided to reshape how we approach mornings on domestic cable.” Among other changes, Jim Acosta, an anchor and former White House correspondent who had been hosting a weekend show, will return to weekdays with a 10 a.m. program.

CNN dived into the chummy, banter-filled morning show space in 2013 at the behest of its then-new president, Jeff Zucker, a “Today” alumnus. Mr. Zucker hired Chris Cuomo from ABC to co-host a show called “New Day,” with a glossy set and Manhattan-based production crew.

Mr. Zucker’s successor, Chris Licht, a co-creator of “Morning Joe,” tried his own spin on the format, renaming the show “CNN This Morning” in 2022. The setup was troubled from the start: A co-host, Don Lemon, had to apologize after making insensitive comments about women and aging, and he was eventually forced out of the network.

Monday’s move effectively eliminates one of the final vestiges of Mr. Licht’s time at the network; he was ousted in June. After his departure, CNN’s interim leaders — a group of four executives known internally as the Quad — put their own stamp on the network’s lineup, adding Mr. Mattingly as a permanent host.

Under the changes announced on Monday, the Manhattan-based morning crew will be disbanded, with oversight of early weekday programming shifted to Atlanta.

The move comes as CNN is looking for ways to save on costs as it tries a high-stakes transition to a digital-first future amid the industrywide decline of cable television. Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN’s parent company, is dealing with a significant debt load and has slashed costs at CNN since taking over the network in 2022.

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