NEW YORK — CNN is planning to cancel the low-rated “Paula Zahn Now” and may replace it with a news show anchored by NBC’s Campbell Brown if the network can come to terms with the “Weekend Today” co-anchor.
CNN is planning to offer Brown a contract, and Zahn’s 8 p.m. timeslot, but NBC has an option to match the offer for Brown, whose contract expires at the end of July.
Zahn, who came to the network from Fox News Channel in 2001, is expected to leave when her contract expires in the fall.
Move would be part of a broad shakeup in early primetime, where CNN faces stiff competition from Fox News’ “Fox Report With Shepard Smith” and “The O’Reilly Factor.”
In addition, CNN is weighing whether to move “Lou Dobbs Tonight” to a later hour and possibly to 8 p.m. if Brown’s deal falls through. Dobbs anchors CNN’s highest-rated hour in the adults 25-54 demographic, and some inside the network believe his brand of opinionated populism would better compete against the right-leaning O’Reilly and MSNBC’s left-leaning “Countdown,” hosted by Keith Olbermann.
CNN/U.S. prexy Jon Klein is under pressure to make progress in those competitive timeslots after Time Warner chairman-CEO Richard Parsons last week told analysts, “I worry a lot more about CNN than I do about CNN.com.”
CNN is weighing several options for 8 p.m., the most competitive hour in cable news populated by opinionated hosts and dominated by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who averages 2 million viewers a night, according to Nielsen Media Research.
In the Fox News-CNN-MSNBC race, Zahn was in third place in total viewers during the hour to Olbermann (652,000 viewers) in May, but in the 25-54 demographic — the most important for news advertisers — she also came in behind Headline News’ Nancy Grace, another tough-talking, opinionated host.
If CNN lands Brown, 39, the most difficult question is how to compete at 8 p.m. One insider pointed out that Brown resembles Zahn in that they are both polished, network-style anchors, who have proven no match for the kind of brash, opinionated hosts that dominate on cable. “Why replace Paula with another Paula?” the source said.
The shakeup could mean changes for Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room,” which runs for two hours starting at 4 p.m. ET and then returns for a third hour at 7 p.m. after “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”
CNN could consolidate Blitzer into a three-hour block starting at 4 p.m. and then slot Brown at 7 followed by Dobbs at 8.
Should CNN fail to land Brown, Dobbs could do a two-hour show, much like Anderson Cooper, who anchors two live hours from 10 p.m. to midnight.