×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Chris Cuomo Nabs Viewers for CNN in Cable-News’ Toughest Time Period

CNN has learned that there’s nothing wrong with a little attitude.

In just six months, the network’s new 9 p.m. program, “Cuomo Prime Time,” has become the most-watched show on the AT&T-owned cable-news network. Anchor Chris Cuomo’s show has surpassed colleague Anderson Cooper’s 8 p.m. program in that distinction, and helped CNN gain more notice in cable-news’ toughest time slot, where Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow draw some of the medium’s biggest audiences.

Cuomo is not doing it with the type of talk that has worked for CNN in the past. The host isn’t one for the light banter that time-slot predecessors Larry King and Piers Morgan used at 9 p.m. Cuomo likes a good verbal sparring.

“It’s about the debate,” says Melanie Buck, the show’s executive producer, in an interview. “It’s about the pushing.”

Each night, Cuomo urges his viewers to come along with him on a quest for the facts at the root of the daily news cycle. “Let’s get after it!” he says to them.

He’s not trumping the competition. “Hannity” was the most-watched cable-news show in November, drawing 3,026,000 viewers at 9 p.m., and 571,000 in the 25 to 54 demo that advertisers covet. His program was also the most-watched show at 9 p.m. in all of cable at that time. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow snared 2.9 million and 525,000 in the demo.

But Cuomo’s numbers last month – 1,288,000 overall viewers and 381,000 in the demo – have improved CNN’s performance in the time slot. His overall viewership in November was up 25% in time slot compared to last year, while his audience in the key demo was up 2% in the period. On two nights last week, Cuomo’s audience among the 25-to-54 crowd was more than Hannity’s (one of those broadcasts was classified as a Hannity special).

The show may be lending a boost to CNN’s 10 p.m. hour, hosted by Don Lemon. That show, “CNN Tonight,” notched a 34% increase in viewers overall and a 15% increase among the 25-to-54 audience.

CNN has been encouraged by viewer response. “It normally is not easy” to get viewership increases, says Buck. “You don’t always get that sort of response that quickly.”

Some advertisers, meanwhile, are specifically attaching themselves to Cuomo’s show on CNN and another he hosts on sister outlet HLN. Since “Cuomo Prime Time” launched CNN parent Turner has lured new and expanded ad business to the network, according to a spokesperson for Turner’s ad-sales division.

No one in the TV-news business expects Cuomo’s audience to surpass that of his rivals any time soon. But the traction he has gained on CNN in a short period of time must give executives confidence in their choice – which is not in keeping with the network’s programming history. CNN’s 9 p.m. hour was for years an easy view. Larry King would hold forth with celebrities and newsmakers from all walks of life. Cuomo grills his guests. King barely singed them. When Piers Morgan succeeded King, viewers saw a mix of celebrity interviews and news takes.

Cuomo lends a pugnacious tone to the hour. He likes to debate his guests, often doing one-on-one segments with newsmakers or quizzing two people from opposing sides of an issue. He calls visitors to his show, “my brother.” Even his field reporting takes two sides of an issue into account. Last week. Cuomo visited migrant camps in Mexico set up close to the U.S. border. But he also interviewed U.S. border authorities as well to get their view on the situation.

Cuomo is less focused on beating rivals, says Buck, and more interested in his own program. “Those shows have been on for a number of years , and as Chris likes to say, people retreat to their corners in partisan times,” she says.”We are not telling people one side what they want to hear.”

Producers continue to tweak the show, says Buck. Gone is a segment in which Cuomo asked viewers to tell him what he was getting wrong. Another segment in which Cuomo illustrated concepts for the audience on a whiteboard has been used less frequently. Cuomo has found success with a “Closing Argument” – which he writes himself – where he talks about a topic that matters to him. “We have noticed that, ratings-wise, people are responding. Online, we get a ton of views on those. Anecdotally, in an airport, we have had more than one person come up to say, ‘We love the Closing Argument,’” says Buck. “That has really resonated with people.”

Cuomo’s show will likely continue to evolve, says the producer. “Chris and I are very focused on what works and what doesn’t. As soon as we see something that maybe isn’t resonating as much, we will tweak it,” she says. “I would be surprised if this is the exact show” viewers will see in a year.

More TV

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

  • Ken Jeong TV Take Podcast

    Listen: Ken Jeong on His Return to Stand-Up and New Netflix Special

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, talks with Ken Jeong about his Netflix comedy special, “Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho,” and being a judge on Fox’s “The Masked Singer.“ Jeong started working on his new standup act after ABC canceled his show “Dr. [...]

  • "Brother" -- Episode 201-- Pictured (l-r):

    CBS Interactive's Marc DeBevoise on Streaming Boom, Content Strategy, and Apple

    Not everyone wants or needs to be Netflix to succeed in the streaming space. And not everyone sees Apple’s enigmatic new service as a threat. Even as rival streaming services offer gobs of content, CBS Interactive’s president and COO Marc DeBevoise sees the company’s targeted original programming strategy continuing to attract viewers to its All [...]

  • Ken Jeong to Star in CBS

    Ken Jeong to Star in CBS Comedy Pilot From 'Crazy Rich Asians' Author Kevin Kwan

    A “Crazy Rich Asians” reunion is happening at CBS. Ken Jeong has been cast in a lead role in the multi-camera comedy pilot “The Emperor of Malibu,” which is being co-written and executive produced by “Crazy Rich Asians” author Kevin Kwan. In the series, Auggie, the son of a Chinese tech billionaire, announces his engagement [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content