January 17, 2023

So what’s the deal with CNN’s prime-time lineup?

For the past year-plus, CNN’s prime-time schedule has been unsettled.

It all started when Chris Cuomo was bounced from the network — and his coveted 9 p.m. Eastern slot — at the end of 2021. Then last October, Don Lemon was moved to mornings, opening up the 10 p.m. Eastern slot. Throughout it all, CNN has patched together a prime-time lineup following Anderson Cooper’s 8 p.m. Eastern show.

Cooper’s show was extended an hour, while Laura Coates and Alisyn Camerota have been sharing co-hosting duties at 10 p.m.

But CNN could have a real shakeup in store.

Max Tani’s latest media column for Semafor — “CNN is serious about getting into comedy” — reports that the news network is considering adding a comedian type to its prime-time lineup. Names that CNN executives have thought about include Bill Maher, Trevor Noah, Arsenio Hall and Jon Stewart. Tani wrote that Maher might be the most realistic prospect, while Hall is probably not. And, for now, Stewart has a deal with Apple. The idea, according to a Tani source, is a CNN version of John Oliver, who hosts a comedy-news show on HBO.

Rumors of such a show have been floating around for a while now, going back to when Chris Licht took over at CNN nearly a year ago. Licht is the former executive producer of Stephen Colbert’s late-night show at CBS.

Trying to tie a bit of comedy into news is certainly not a new idea. Samantha Bee used to have a show on TBS. Stewart and Noah both had successful runs with “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central. Oliver and Maher have had success on HBO. Late-night talk-show hosts, particularly Colbert and Seth Meyers, often dedicate large chunks of commentary to the latest political news.

And in what has been a rather surprise hit, Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld hosts an 11 p.m. Eastern show that takes a satirical approach to the news and typically draws more than 2 million viewers.

So you can see why CNN would at least mull over the idea of an offbeat news show.

In a lengthy profile about Licht in December written by The New York Times’ James B. Stewart, Licht said that CNN prime time is an “open canvas” and that the network was meeting and “throwing things against the wall, looking at off-the-beaten path opportunities.”

On one hand, trying something new might not be a bad idea for a network that has fallen behind Fox News and MSNBC in the prime-time ratings. Then again, it’s risky, too. As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote, “Perhaps a comedy-entertainment-sports figure could deliver on this ambition. Trouble is, such an experiment could also deliver a programming disaster. Consider a scenario in which said entertainer was on air at the moment that an overseas war broke out, or an earthquake struck, or some statesperson died. Watching the network scramble to switch back into hard-news mode — well, that would surely be entertaining.”

In honor of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a few articles of note

A weekend of football

Fox Sports play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt, left, with game analyst Greg Olsen, right, prior to an NFL game in November. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

If you’re a football fan, this past weekend was a smorgasbord of tasty NFL playoff action. The football was superb, but the announcing teams were a topic of interest, too.

The big winner of the weekend was Fox Sports’ No. 1 team of Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen. They drew rave reviews for their call of the New York Giants’ victory against the Minnesota Vikings. It was the most high-profile game of the season so far for the duo that replaced the well-respected team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who moved over to ESPN before the season.

Burkhardt and Olsen will call the Super Bowl for Fox next month and, if this past weekend was any indication, the network is in good shape. Especially notable this season has been Olsen, who has handled his assignment with nothing but professionalism and class. Before the season, future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Bucs signed a reported $375 million contract to be a Fox Sports analyst when (and if) he decides to retire. Fox Sports is not going to pay anyone that kind of money and not have him on its best game of the week. That means we can assume Olsen is just holding the No. 1 analyst seat warm for Brady and will move to the second team when Brady moves into broadcasting.

Meanwhile, the broadcast team that took a verbal beating over the weekend was NBC’s Al Michaels and Tony Dungy. Michaels, considered by many (including me) to be the best NFL announcer ever, called games for Amazon this season after more than a decade of working with Cris Collinsworth on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

Michaels is now a “broadcaster emeritus” for NBC and called Saturday night’s wild game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers. He called the game with Dungy, who normally works in the studio. The Jaguars staged an improbable comeback victory after falling behind 27-0.

I thought Michaels and Dungy called a good game, but both were criticized by those who thought the booth lacked emotion. Awful Announcing’s Sean Keeley has more in “Al Michaels & Tony Dungy dragged over lifeless call of Jaguars’ epic comeback over Chargers.”

In a text message to New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand, Michaels said, “Very happy. Had never worked with Tony and it felt extremely comfortable. Was like doing two different games. First half/second half. Tons of fascinating strategy. Nothing like postseason in any sport. Must have gotten a hundred texts from folks who were very happy to see me back on NBC. Read some comments that we didn’t sound excited enough. Internet compost! You know me as well as anyone — no screaming, no yelling, no hollering. It’s TELEVISION! Ellipses and captions are [sufficient] when pictures tell the story. I’m not doing a game for over-the-top YouTube hits.”

Michaels added, “I thought the energy was much better once Jax made it a game. 27-0 makes it difficult to make it sound like more than it is. One of the things that I think makes Tony good is that he doesn’t overtalk and load it up with unneeded blather. He’s measured, but almost everything he says has relevance and poignancy. A lot of folks who understand this industry are annoyed with the over-the-top yelling that makes a game sound like an offshoot of talk radio. I’m in that corner, but there are others who obviously think otherwise.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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