CNN recently announced low-rated, left-wing host Don Lemon would move from primetime to an ensemble morning program later this year, as the network attempts to revamp its AM lineup with a show centered around a host who’s struggled to attract viewers.
“CNN had tried for years to fix its morning programming and Don Lemon is not the answer,” a longtime network morning show producer told Fox News Digital when the move was announced.
Lemon has never particularly been a ratings draw, with his primetime program peaking at an average audience of 1.6 million in 2020, an election year that saw Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” average 3.5 million viewers and MSNBC’s “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” attract 2.4 million. The election-year spike was Lemon’s largest yearly audience since he landed the primetime gig, and he never averaged more than 1.1 million viewers during the show’s roughly nine-year run.
“Don Lemon Tonight” has averaged a dismal nightly audience of 683,000 viewers in 2022, down 34% from his 2021 viewership that finished behind both MSNBC and Fox News in the time slot.
“New Day,” the long-struggling morning program that Lemon is set to replace, has been a ratings disaster that failed to emerge as a relevant morning show option. The show launched to much fanfare in 2013 but never managed to average even 700,000 viewers for a year despite multiple reboots and anchor changes. The soon-to-be-scrapped show has suffered in 2022, averaging fewer than 400,000 for four consecutive months entering September.
DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall is puzzled by the apparent belief inside CNN that the ratings-challenged Lemon can fix the network’s morning show.
“It is a real long shot that Don Lemon can generate an audience for CNN in the morning time slot. He is already a known quantity to viewers and the low ratings for his evening program is ample evidence that he doesn’t resonate,” McCall told Fox News Digital.
“His presence on the morning show will be moderated a bit since there are co-hosts, but probably not enough to boost CNN mornings out of their ratings doldrums. He will still be the face of that morning show,” McCall continued. “His evening show was characterized by his hard-hitting and sometimes controversial opinions. That style doesn’t work so well with people having coffee in the morning at their breakfast tables, and it is hard to imagine Lemon relegating himself to just doing chatty commentary and softer interviews.”
Lemon will join CNN hosts Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins on the “re-imagined” morning show. The move leaves CNN with another gaping hole in primetime, as “Cuomo Prime Time” still has not been replaced since namesake host Chris Cuomo was fired last year.
Steve Krakauer, a former CNN digital producer who edits media newsletter Fourth Watch, believes Lemon has a chance to thrive in mornings but wonders if he’s too partisan to attract additional eyeballs.
“Lemon is a talented TV personality who went far down the Trump addiction rabbit hole over the past five years. That may have brought him some degree of success with a small subset of the audience, but ultimately it did not allow for his true talent to shine. He’s not a news reader. He’s not a strong partisan voice like Rachel Maddow. So what is he? Well he’s fun, and he’s kind of goofy, and he can fill air time,” Krakauer told Fox News Digital.
“If that’s what the morning show will be, maybe he’ll succeed. To be fair, success for CNN in the morning will basically be getting above a ‘scratch’ rating,” Krakauer continued. “But I also wonder if Don Lemon in 2022 is currently capable of just being that, of de-politicizing himself enough to be palatable for an audience that doesn’t want to be part of the endless divisiveness that his old show brought.”
Lemon has insisted that the move from primetime to the mornings isn’t a demotion. McCall believes network honchos simply did what they had to do, but more changes will be inevitable if Lemon doesn’t figure out a way to appeal to viewers.
“It will be a surprise if Lemon can get this morning show to take off, but CNN had to do something with him and get him out of primetime,” McCall said. “Getting shipped to the morning show is a semi-Siberia kind of assignment for Lemon, and if this doesn’t generate some improved ratings, CNN will have little choice but to buy him out or send him to weekend Siberia.”
All data courtesy of Nielsen Media Research.