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HLN Retrenches: Ashleigh Banfield, Carol Costello, Michaela Pereira Will Leave in Program Shuffle

HLN, once known as CNN Headline News, will deliver fewer headlines as a result of the cable network’s latest programming shift.

Executives are pulling back on the news programming that has filled the outlet’s daytime schedule in a wide-scale retrenchment at the network, which is part of AT&T’s CNN. HLN in recent years has stocked mornings, afternoons and early evenings with popular hosts like Ashleigh Banfield, Carol Costello and Michaela Pereira. All three will leave HLN as part of the reshuffling, which, according to a person familiar with the matter, will affect between 12 and 15 production and editorial positions in New York and Los Angeles. The bulk of production for HLN daytime will revert to CNN’s Atlanta facilities,  where the network’s flagship “Morning Express with Robin Meade” is based.

The change in direction reflects some tough realities for the network, which executives feel has not reaped as much from the Trump news cycle as its corporate sister, or rivals like Fox News Channel and MSNBC. Like HLN, those networks have also put more resources into their daytime schedules. But executives appear to have concluded HLN’s lineup, which skews more toward general news and popular culture,  is not performing in a way that warrants some of the investment that has been placed against it.

“The current cable news landscape is dominated by politics. Our live news shows have not benefited from this trend given our story mix. However, HLN’s longform programs have been performing very well,” said Ken Jautz, the CNN executive vice president who oversees HLN, in a memo sent to staffers Tuesday.

HLN will maintain some of its daytime programming, and even expand it. Meade’s “Morning Express,” an HLN staple for more than 15 years, will expand to six hours, running from 6 a.m. to noon.The show has proven to be a durable alternative to big-network morning programs such as “Today” and “Good Morning America” and is popular outside New York and L.A.  The show’s last two hours will feature a mix of live and taped segments.

HLN’s “On The Story,” an early afternoon news program that had been anchored by Erica Hill, will expand to three hours, noon to 3 p.m.. and be hosted by a roundtable of anchors. The weekend edition of “Morning Express” will also continue.

This is the latest recalibration for HLN, once known for thirty-minute newscasts that featured short breaking-news items that ran the gamut from general interest to business. HLN once fared well by offering a diet of court coverage in the daytime and showbiz tidbits, Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew in the evenings. In 2013 and 2014, the network went through a significant programming shift, trying to align itself with the needs of younger viewers by sifting through social media and the latest trending topics. HLN tested everything from airing movies to ordering up a game series based on a concept from Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show. That move proved ill-fated.

The network will part ways with some well-known veterans. Costello, known for anchoring CNN’s mid-morning coverage, moved to HLN in 2017. Pereira, who has a devoted West Coast following from her years as a Los Angeles broadcaster at KTLA, joined CNN in 2013 as part of the original trio to host its “New Day” morning program. And Banfield gained wider notice for her on-the-scene coverage of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 for MSNBC, along with subsequent assignments for the network. She also has logged stints at CourtTV and ABC News.

Some of the strategy may have been telegraphed in recent weeks. S.E. Cupp, who joined HLN in 2017 to host a daily evening program, recently moved to CNN to host a show on Saturdays. Erica Hill, a veteran anchor who joined HLN in 2016 after stints with NBC’s weekend “Today” broadcast and a run on one of CBS News’ earlier morning programs, is now appearing on CNN frequently.

“We built a top-notch line-up of some of the best anchors and show teams in the industry, and we are proud of what we’ve accomplished together these past few years,” Jautz said.

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