You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cable-News Hopes for ‘Nightline’ Moment for Election-Cycle Shows

MSNBC’s “11th Hour” wasn’t supposed to be on the air more than a few weeks.  “We’ll be here at this hour from now until Election Day,” noted the show’s host, Brian Williams, during its 11 p.m. debut in early September, “when we will cancel ourselves.”

With nearly a month passed since that demarcation point, Williams’ show is still on the air.

Over at CNN, meanwhile, Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper continue to host two-hour long versions of their primetime shows, which were expanded months ago as interest in the coming election boomed.

Cable-news appears to be hoping for a new “Nightline” moment. That venerable ABC program had its origins in a news tsunami that gripped the nation in 1979, the Iran hostage crisis. Ted Koppel convened an audience on most weekdays after the late local news to give them the latest details on the situation, and in doing so became so entrenched in the schedule that the network saw in the program a viable competitor to Johnny Carson on NBC.Nearly four decades later, with the nation about to enter an era under a vastly different type of President, the cable-news outlets are gambling that the stuff they served viewers before the election will grow into a new type of electronic campfire, where viewers can watch anchors and panels hash out the latest details or gain access to people in the midst of the political process. Rachel Maddow, Bill O’Reilly and the rest of cable-news’ primetime crowd never seem to have to scramble for something to talk about in what has become a never-ending news cycle.

“There are so many issues of medium- and long-term newsworthiness that this election has stirred up, whether its Supreme Court nominations, infrastructure investment,” noted Lawrence Epstein, a former director of finance at CBS News who now teaches  entertainment and arts management at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “It is a counter-intuitive election year.”

The normal routine is this: The election ends, audiences start to wander away and cable reshuffles its lineup to reflect the dynamic. In 2013, for example, the year after the networks chronicled the battle for the White House between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the combined median prime-time viewership of CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC dropped 11% to about 3 million, according to data from Pew Research Center. James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox, cautioned investors before the election that ratings tend to slip once the nation knows who will be its next Commander-in-Chief.

To be certain, there have been occasional signs of programming schedules returning to normal. CNN on Wednesday is expected to air a two-hour special featuring weekend host Fareed Zakaria examining the legacy of President Obama. But the Time Warner network continues to rely most heavily in primetime on the marathon shows led by Cooper and Lemon, along with their massive coterie of fuming analysts and surrogates.

And yet, the cable-news outlets have little incentive to shift into post-election mode. What they put on the air leading up to the victory of Donald Trump is working just fine.

All three networks – Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC – saw heady viewership increases in primetime in November. Since November 9, the day after Election Day, Fox News Channel’s overall primetime viewership rose 38% through December 1, according to data from Nielsen. CNN’s increased 23% and MSNBC’s hiked 50%. Fox News’ viewership between 25 and 54 – the demographic most desired by advertisers – rose 53%, while CNN’s increased 16% and MSNBC’s rose 48%   The month may be something of an outlier: Interest in the election was at its peak in the days before Donald Trump bested Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College in the race for the White House.

MSNBC and CNN declined to make executives available to comment on their current and future programming schedules. Nonetheless, Brian Williams isn’t likely to cancel himself this week.

The question remains: Are these current line-ups the new normal for cable news? To get the answer, one would have to analyze whether the hosts want to continue in those roles. And one would require a crystal ball to determine if President-elect Trump’s administration will continue to prove as unconventional as his support staff did during the recent campaign.

And then, of course, there’s the news cycle. Would it make sense for the network’s all-encompassing focus on politics to broaden after the coming Presidential inauguration? If viewers continue to tune in each night, the networks will have their answer.

More TV

  • Pete Davidson photographed by Peggy Sirota

    Pete Davidson Posts Unsettling Message, Deletes Instagram

    UPDATED: “Saturday Night Live” cast member Pete Davidson posted a disturbing message Saturday morning stating he doesn’t “want to be on this earth anymore,” then deleted his Instagram account. In the post, Davidson wrote, “I’m doing my best to stay here for you but i actually don’t know how much longer i can last. all [...]

  • Disney Channel Fires 'Andi Mack' Actor

    Disney Channel Fires 'Andi Mack' Actor Arrested for Plotting Sex With Minor

    Disney Channel has severed ties with “Andi Mack” actor Stoney Westmoreland following his arrest for allegedly trying to arrange a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old. “Stoney Westmoreland, an actor working on the series ‘Andi Mack,’ was arrested in Salt Lake City today,” a Disney Channel spokesperson said in a statement Friday. “Given the nature of [...]

  • Russian Doll

    TV News Roundup: Natasha Lyonne's 'Russian Doll' Sets Netflix Premiere Date

    On Friday’s roundup, Netflix announces the premiere date for “Russian Doll” and Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Brexit” film has a premiere date on HBO FIRST LOOKS Showtime has released a new teaser for the upcoming comedy series, “Black Monday,” which will premiere Sunday, Jan. 20 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The series stars and is executive produced by Don [...]

  • Vanity Fair Review

    TV Review: 'Vanity Fair'

    There’s something comforting about the predictability of a period piece novel adaptation in the Masterpiece Theater tradition. Knowing the story, or even just the rhythms of the genre, there are rarely many surprises. The women will toss off witticisms and cry careful, pretty tears; the men will steel their jaws and declare their love, ideally [...]

  • FILE - In this April 5,

    CBS Claims Commitment to Ending Harassment. Its Actions Say Otherwise (Column)

    At this point, a new breaking sexual harassment case at CBS isn’t exactly a surprise. Over and over again, powerful CBS company men from producers to executives to the ex-CEO himself have made headlines for propagating decades of harassment and abuse, with dozens of witnesses affirming that the pattern was business as usual. But as [...]

  • Willow ShieldsVariety Portrait Studio, Beautycon Festival

    'Hunger Games' Alum Willow Shields Joins Netflix Drama Series 'Spinning Out'

    Willow Shields has been cast in a series regular role in “Spinning Out,” the upcoming ice skating drama series at Netflix. She joins a cast that also includes Kaya Scodelario, who was announced as the series lead on Thursday, taking over the role originally held by Emma Roberts. Shields will star as Serena, Kat Baker’s (Scodelario) [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content