Jake Tapper wasn’t the answer to CNN’s first headache

Two months ago, in the run-up to the central government elections, CNN made a major shift in its lineup, putting Jake Tapper at 9 p.m.—a notable departure for the cable news anchor who usually hosts his show, The leadership, the second part. So, when news broke Wednesday that Tapper would be moving back to his 4 p.m. postseason slot, the network had what seemed like a simple explanation. “As part of a special arrangement, Jake agreed to anchor the 9 p.m. hour through the midterm elections,” said a spokesperson for Semafor’s. Max Taniwho first reported the news, adding that CNN would “announce post-election plans for that time in the coming days.” In other words, that was the plan all along.

But other accounts, and Tapper’s recent ratings, suggest a different story. First, when the shakeup was originally announced in September, Puck’s Dylan Byers reported that Licht wanted Tapper to become a regular prime-time host “and the face of his CNN,” citing “several senior network sources and others familiar with his thinking.” It would be something of a five-week trial run, especially for Tapper, who is reportedly happy with his current duties at CNN and the time he’s been getting to spend with his family. But the debut on CNN Tonight with Jake Tapperwhich began with a private interview with the president Joe Bidencame in third behind Fox News and MSNBC, drawing 808,000 total viewers (compared to Fox News’ 2.6 million) Hannity and 1.5 million for MSNBC Alex Wagner tonight). The situation was not much better a week later, or the week after that, or even two weeks later. As of this Monday, Tapper had fewer than 450,000 total viewers, according to Byers, and had seen its viewership decline week over week. Diversity notes that Tapper had not committed to prime time beyond next week and was “concerned about what the move could mean for his personal life and family.”

Regardless of why Tapper is moving back to his afternoon slot, the fact that he won’t be part of CNN’s new primetime schedule more or less depends on the CEO. Chris Licht back where he started. The network’s 21.00 hours have been vacant since then Chris Cuomo was fired, and filling it has been at the top of Licht’s to-do list since he arrived last May. Licht’s second priority has been overhauling CNN’s morning schedule and his attempt to do so with CNN this morning— a new program hosted by the best star Don LemonWhite House press secretary Kaitlan Collinsand afternoon anchorage Poppy Harlow— Launched this week. But again the show saw a drop in ratings compared to A new day, the morning show replaced it, confusing the network’s order. “Keeping Tapper at 9 would have allowed CNN to move.” [New Day] anchor John Berman swear Brianna Keiler into their slots in the afternoon. That couple is now without a regular project,” as Diversity‘s Brian Steinberg recorded Wednesday. “Lemon’s new AM assignment, which took him out of prime time, leaves CNN with three hours to fill without being better known to evening viewers.”

All of this comes as CNN continues to struggle through the growing pains of new leadership. In September, I reported that jittery employees were seeking clarity from Licht amid a sudden departure from Brian Stelter, among other notable departures, as well as the network’s perceived shift to more politically neutral territory. In October, days after signaling budget cuts and layoffs before the end of the year in a memo to staff, Licht announced that the network would pull back original series and movies, including Navalny swear Stanley Tucci‘s Search for Italy. “It was a very difficult decision to make, and it was largely based on the ever-increasing costs of launching premium third-party content,” Licht said at the time. Meanwhile, the network’s ratings have been steadily declining as New York Times reported in August, total profits fell below $1 billion for the first time since 2016.

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