CNN is expected to launch “Cuomo Prime Time” this Spring. It will air at 9 p.m. weekdays, and marks the first recalibration of the network’s primetime schedule since Don Lemon joined it in 2014. John Berman will take Cuomo’s spot at “New Day” opposite Alisyn Camerota, according to Michael Bass, CNN’s executive vice president of programming. Poppy Harlow, who has been co-anchoring between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. with Berman on weekdays, will anchor the slot solo.
CNN has for some time relied upon Anderson Cooper to extend his 8 p.m. show another hour each weeknight, or sought to fill 9 p.m. with documentary-style programming, but in the current news cycle, it needed something fresh, Bass said. “We need to be live. There’s so much going in every single day, and it made sense just to be on the news. That’s what CNN is all about,” he said, in an interview.
The maneuver will take Cuomo out of TV’s highly competitive morning wars and into battle with two new formidable opponents. His program will square off directly against Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” and MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” More people are watching CNN overall – the network enjoyed its second-best February in a decade – but the Time Warner-owned network lags its opponents in primetime viewership.
“They have huge numbers. I have huge respect for their success, and I take nothing away from them,” said Cuomo in an interview. “But the point is, I don’t know where their partisan fights are getting us.” The anchor said he intends to highlight “debating with decency,” often in segments which will have him interviewing two people he feels aren’t espousing facts. “You put two people on one side of the divide, and let them go at it with me.”
Cuomo, 47 years old, has risen in stature since joining CNN from ABC News in 2013. To be sure, he had a prominent perch while working at shows like “20/20” and “Good Morning America. During his tenure at “New Day,” however, he has gained notice with blow-for-blow interviews with politicians and newsmakers. Some of the exchanges have gone for as long as 20 minutes, with CNN opting to stay with the colorful conversation rather than break for commercials.
The anchor expects to continue holding interviewees’ feet to the fire. “Yes, I like being aggressive. I don’t believe in faking the funk. I believe in being straight. You have to hold people to answer the questions. There is too much evasiveness, too much pandering, too much playing with the facts. You have to cut out the bias. It has to be a mix of brains and balls – that’s what it has to be,” he said. “You have to be ready to look people in the eye and ask them things they aren’t talking to and you have to swing to check them when they want to move on. That’s isn’t going to make you popular all of the time.”
CNN foreshadowed the move earlier this year when Cuomo did a limited prime-time run at 9 p.m. in a show with a blue-tinted set and the same name as the one he will soon take up. He sparred with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial former Arizona law-enforcement officer who has claimed President Obama’s birth certificate was forged and who wants to run for U.S. Senate in 2018. During the conversation, Cuomo told his guest that he was “part of a campaign to de-legitimize the President of the United States.” Arpaio did not walk out of the segment. Cuomo’s January run matched its lead-in “Anderson Cooper 360,” in viewers between 25 and 54, the demographic most coveted by advertisers. Coopers’s program is CNN’s highest-rated show.Both lured an average of 392,000.
But it did not come close to generating the numbers of either of the two programs it will vie with in a few weeks’ time. “Maddow” snared an average of 678,000 viewers in the demo, while “Hannity”captured an average of 660,000.
CNN is less interested in ratings than it is in establishing a new franchise, said Bass, the executive. “We really think it’s a bigger opportunity for us to have more shows in primetime, not just two shows with two guys,” he said. Executives hope the new program will “energize the line up,” he said, adding, “You’ve got to keep making changes to try and get better.”
Both anchor and executive say they grappled with the decision to move Cuomo off “New Day,” where he and Camerota created a morning show that was more durable and memorable than many of CNN’s other A.M. efforts. But the network feels Camerota can more than hold her own in any number of segments, said Bass, and has confidence in Berman, who often fills in for Anderson Cooper.
Cuomo’s visibility is already high. He is the son of Mario Cuomo, the former New York governor, and the younger brother of Andrew Cuomo, the current governor of the Empire State. His evening visibility is likely to make him a target for other pundits. In January, Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson did a segment on Cuomo, likening him to a poet rather than a journalist, and, showing viral clips of the anchor working out. “The more relevant you are, the more people come after you. That is not of concern to me,” said Cuomo. “I worry about what people say to my face, not a TV screen.”
The anchor says he will not remain tethered to the studio, and expects to be more a part of political coverage than he has in the past and travel more frequently to scenes where big news is breaking. “As they say, pundits stay home,” he said. “Journalists stay out alone.”