CNN’s new slate of primetime non-fiction programs are supposed to give its viewers a break from the news cycle the Time Warner outlet churns through each morning, afternoon and early evening. Now one of those new shows is feeding it.
CNN’s “The Hunt,” which debuted Sunday, July 13, has gained notice because it marks the return of John Walsh to television after his long-running weekly manhunt program, “America’s Most Wanted,” was cancelled by Fox and then Lifetime. But the show is also generating headlines upon which CNN seems eager to seize.
Charles Mozdir was featured in the July 20 episode of the program. The alleged sex offender had been missing since 2012, after he fled following an arrest on suspicion of touching a young boy inappropriately. Mozdir posted bail and then failed to show for his subsequent arraignment, according to a CNN report. On Monday, authorities tracked him down in New York City, and Mozdir was killed in a shootout. Since that time the story has moved from being a feature of “The Hunt” to staple of CNN’s schedule.
Coverage of the Mozdir shooting has surfaced on CNN’s web site and was featured during CNN’s “CNN Tonight.” Walsh even made an appearance on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” to talk about the search for the suspect and the role his program played in it.
Cable-news outlets regularly cover lurid crimes and the prolonged court cases that are often their by-product. But the Mozdir case didn’t really capture the nation’s attention until CNN started reporting on its ghastly denouement. The decision to cover the story so intensely has raised some eyebrows. “CNN’s ‘The Hunt’ did what it was meant to do: elicit a tip that led to the location of an alleged criminal,” said Daniel D’Addario of Salon. “And the show’s involvement in the capture of a fugitive is newsworthy — but surely not the story.”
For its part, CNN has all along intended for “The Hunt” to develop potential leads that might wind up as fodder for the network’s new raison d’etre: putting all its resources into coverage of stories that it can own, such as the mysterious loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March or its focus in February 2013 on the Carnival cruise ship Triumph. A power loss on the ship forced cruise guest to live in squalid conditions until it could get back to shore.
“If somebody is caught, we are going to report it,” said Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, at a July 7 lunch with reporters to draw attention to the launch of “The Hunt.”
CNN has invested more heavily in original series and documentaries that it can put on the air when breaking news is at a low point. Some of the programs, like “The Sixties” or “Parts Unknown,” draw critical acclaim, but rarely show up outside of a promo during the network’s regular news coverage.
“The Hunt” has performed well for CNN. The network said over its first three Sunday airings, “The Hunt” has won its time period among the three major cable-news outlets for both total viewers as well as the demographic most desired by advertisers in news programming, people between 25 and 54. According to CNN, the show is up 65% among viewers in the news demo compared with the four Sundays prior to its launch nad up 67% among total viewers in the same time period.
With “The Hunt,” CNN may have happened upon a new format – the kind that draws viewers in at its regular air time and them gives them reason to tune in afterwards, when they might not otherwise do so. Whether the technique is the most proper one for a news outlet to follow is a question for media critics.