Instead, Laura Coates, a fill-in host and one of the network’s legal analysts, was holding forth on a show called “White House in Crisis: The Impeachment Inquiry.” The program came complete with a round of guests – former “Meet the Press” anchor David Gregory and former U.S Attorney Preet Bharara among them – and even a segment called “Laura’s Case,” during which the former federal attorney explores a legal theory as the U.S. House’s burgeoning inquiry recent disclosures around some of President Trump’s actions moves forward.
There’s no Lemon squeeze going on. CNN has been known to air “pop up” concepts that adhere more closely to the subject matter of extraordinary news cycles, according to a person familiar with the network, and the burgeoning impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House of Representatives is one of those outsize events. Last week, CNN featured an 11 p.m. impeachment-news program on two nights anchored by Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper, and also had Tapper anchor two-hour versions of his regular program, which is usually only an hour in length.
These late-night diversions are just two examples of new programs the news networks are crafting as the impeachment inquiry begins to dominate the headlines. MSNBC, for example, said it would air two specials related to the inquiry this Sunday. One will be led by Ari Melber at 9 p.m. and will look at the latest developments, while the other will be anchored by foreign correspondent Richard Engel.
There doesn’t appear to be any thought of turning these new concepts into full-blown programs – yet. But TV news has a history of, well, turning history into compelling programming. ABC News’ venerable “Nightline” got its start in the fall of 1979 as a nightly update on the looming hostage crisis in Iran. MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” had its genesis in the fall of 2016, when it launched in late night as a temporary effort that mixed wrapping news of the day about the looming presidential election with previewing stories that would be big in the morning.
CNN has used late night in the past to air other nascent concepts. Indeed, Don Lemon began his journey from weekends to primetime with a temporary 11 p.m. program called “The 11th Hour.” What’s more, the AT&T-owned network is believed to have held conversations months ago with MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle about a job that could have included a program airing in the later hours of the day, according to three people familiar with the matter. CNN declined to comment, and Ruhle could not be reached for comment.
Cable-news outlets used to taper off their original programming after 10 p.m., the theory being that news aficionados turned to their late local newscasts. In the Trump era, however, more news has begun to break in the evening, and now all three main U.S. cable news networks have original programming on the air.
CNN pioneered the concept by having Lemon stay on the air past his given 10 p.m. hour. These days, he usually anchors until midnight, though he has been known to go longer. MSNBC made its “11th Hour” permanent within several weeks of its debut, even though Williams introduced it as “a pop up show” that will air nightly “from now until Election Day, when we will cancel ourselves.” Cancellation never came. Fox News Channel in October of 2017 launched “Fox News @ Night,” anchored by Shannon Bream.
“White House in Crisis” saw viewership grow from Monday to Tuesday, according to data from Nielsen. But its audience still lagged the viewers watching its time slot rivals. Still, it’s clear that – at least in the right news cycle – pop-up shows can go from temporary to necessary in the space of a few headlines.