I’m pretty much done with CNN. If you’ve been watching, my reason isn’t much of a revelation. CNN has become the low-rent clone of Fox News. Content has sadly been replaced with context. In every daypart, its newscasts present a ratio of about one minute of news per every ten minutes of views. I haven’t done the math but having produced 15,000 hours of “live” TV myself, it’s a solid educated guess. But here’s the hitch – Fox News learned long ago how to produce compelling context – albeit highly biased and often severely spun context – but compelling context nonetheless. I forced myself to stop watching Bill O’Reilly years ago because I realized I was becoming an angry person with him on my radar. That’s the brilliance of Fox News. Its anchors or hosts or commentators or whatever you want to call them own the stuff they spew. They sell it. And that superior sales job reaches their viewers emotionally. O’Reilly is the prime example – you either love him or despise him, but you watch him. Some would say (a favorite Fox phrase) Fox News embraces the dark side of this industry – calling itself news, insisting it’s fair and balanced, hyping the “no-spin zone” – when in truth, it’s anything but… Viewers are well aware of the network’s strategy – and still watch. Ethics aside, it’s a shrewd and successful business model.
CNN’s news personalities, though, haven’t embraced the dark side. Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo, both of whom I’ve worked with at ABC, along with Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett and some of the others are solid news people. I respect them. This context-over-content format that CNN currently produces is putting its anchors in a precarious position. They’re dancing around that little thing called “bias”. The talking head “experts” they bring on to pontificate the day’s news events are free to be as left or as right leaning as they wanna be. But the anchors must still walk the straight and narrow. That’s a tough job when there’s so much politics behind the scenes. CNN President Jeff Zucker is the guy who created President Trump into the reality show titan he is when Zucker ran NBC and put Trump on The Apprentice. There are claims that CNN election coverage deliberately favored Trump in his bid for the White House while others argue the coverage was clearly Hillary-centric. With that over their heads and the internal struggle of every news anchor to be seen as unbiased, it’s little wonder CNN as a network can’t get viewers like me to buy what it’s selling. When no one’s buying, no one’s watching.
For CNN to compete head-to-head with Fox in this arena, it would need to embrace, replace and showcase: Embrace the dark side; Replace its news people with opinion personalities – I’m talking hard core opinionaters who are in your face badasses; and teach its producers and directors how to Showcase its talent by revamping the way the shows are directed, the way the personalities are produced and the way the content is presented. It’s a mission I don’t think CNN should undertake and it’s one I don’t think CNN could pull off. There are alternate avenues the network could go down to reclaim an audience. But this current path dead-ends at MSNBC alley. When was the last time MSNBC was a part of the conversation?
Along with no point-of-view, the key element missing from the CNN arsenal – is attitude. Fox oozes attitude. CNN oozes platitude – their showrunners have absolutely no idea how to project, perfect and protect attitude. And that’s too bad. Because I like the people on CNN. It’s this context format that is leading them to parts unknown. Anyone say Anthony Bourdain?