CNN’s sinking ratings reflect terrible programming

CNN’s Anderson Cooper

The news was hardly shocking.  To us anyway.  Late yesterday, it was revealed — once again — that top executives at cable news channel CNN are wringing their hands in desperation because ratings continue to plummet. 

Based on the April national Nieslen ratings report, CNN has sunk to third place among national news channels — behind perennial frontrunner Fox News and second-place finisher, MSNBC.

In fact, April brought CNN’s worst ratings in a decade.

CNN parent Time Warner, according to the New York Times, is said to be demanding something be done immediately about this slide.

Apparently these same Time Warner folk are oblivious to the fact CNN brass, such as they are, have been fiddling to no avail with the news channel’s prime time lineup for the past couple of years.

If anything, the programming has gotten worse.

We can speak with authority on this matter because — we must admit — we love to observe a train wreck in progress. Almost every weekday night, we watch with utter amazement at how bad the CNN product is.

Viewers SHOULD be abandoning the news channel.  No one deserves to have such TV torture inflicted on them. 

So what’s wrong with CNN?

Wolf Blitzer a total embarrassment

Wolf Blitzer, poster child for what ails CNNLet’s start with veteran Wolf Blitzer — the poster child for all that ails ratings-challenged CNN. Blitzer is a total embarrassment.  His biggest problem is that he “reads” stupid on camera.  He may know something about the ways of Washington, having been ensconced there for years.

But no matter how hard he tries, Blitzer can’t hide the fact he sounds moronic just about every time he opens his mouth.  He states and restates the obvious no matter what he is talking about, and his deadpan expression all the time only underscores his deadly on-air manner. 

What has CNN done with Blitzer?. Instead of at least marginalizing him, the news channel elevated him to the centerpiece of its 2012 prime time primary campaign coverage this winter and spring.  There he was trying — with no success whatever — to generate some chemistry and talk informatively about each day’s developments with Anderson Cooper and John King. 

A pathetic lineup of political analysts

Until someone at CNN has the balls to give Blitzer the heave-ho, nothing, including the ratings, will change for the better.

And while we’re on the subject of heave-ho, CNN needs to do something about the pathetic lineup of political analysts that litter the studio every time the news channel wants some informed commentary.

Yes, we’re talking about Gloria Borger and David Gergen.  The former is a chirpy know-nothing who is almost as bad as Blitzer on camera.  Gergen, on the other hand, just seems so blase about it all. It’s as if he can barely muster the energy to open his mouth, let alone make a comment. 

What of the rest of the prime-time lineup of hosts? One might have thought Erin Burnett, a TV business news talent imported to CNN from CNBC, could bring some serious smarts to the proceedings.

But that hope didn’t last long. 

Now she has taken to presiding over an hour-long show that is a bizarre mishmash of breaking news and “exclusive” interviews with world leaders that are simply tedious. Whatever Burnett’s doing though, the camera always manages to capture images of her shapely legs and her stiletto high-heels.

Brit Piers Morgan represents the biggest change in CNN’s prime time over the past two years.  And like the rest of it, “Piers Morgan Tonight” isn’t working.

Part of the problem is confusion about what the show is supposed to be. Half the time the program is turned upside down if there is what CNN deems major breaking news.

Morgan appears uncomfortable when he is forced to deal with this stuff rather than the second and third-tier celebrities he prefers to chat up. But even more problematic: Instead of boring in and finding the good stuff, Morgan  merely fawns way too much over his subjects.

Anderson Cooper a badly produced hour of TV news

Finally there’s Anderson Cooper, who is about the only on-air talent left that seems to be holding on to viewers.  But he’s certainly not winning over large numbers of new ones.

Why would he? Who wants to watch him — night in and night out — glare into the camera as he tries to be a tough guy. Or cloyingly sympathetic.  It’s almost enough to induce vertigo.

Whether or not you buy into Cooper and his style, it’s apparent to regular viewers that “Anderson Cooper 360” is a terribly-produced hour of television news.

For example, the ongoing trial of John Edwards and gripping revelations in court about the relationship between the fallen politician and his late wife could have generated some great discussion and analysis Wednesday night. But the whole matter was reduced to a couple of fleeting lines delivered at the end of the show by Cooper’s sidekick Isha Sesay.

So it’s clear much needs to be done to make CNN watchable and to make the ratings start to improve.

But before that can happen, CNN needs someone in charge who has a real eye for superlative on-air news talent.  Someone who also knows how to give that talent the right program to showcase those talents.

That person, most assuredly, is not in charge at CNN now.

Contact Lewis Lazare at