Sometimes, breaking news means fixing the best-laid programming plans.
CNN has recently tamped down its reliance on a Thursday-night “town hall” devoted to analyzing the latest effects of the global coronavirus pandemic, all so it could focus its primetime schedule on recent nationwide protests of the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. The schedule maneuvers show the juggling act many of the nation’s TV-news outlet must attempt while trying to follow the ins and outs of several major national news stories all swirling simultaneously.
CNN for three months had devoted two hours of its Thursday primetime schedule to an ambitious “town hall” led by Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. For 13 weeks, the duo tried to get the latest information from medical experts and examined how American life is changing due to the pandemic. Alicia Keys, Spike Lee, Bill Gates and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred have all visited the program.
As protests around Floyd’s death grew, however, CNN has allocated resources differently. Two weeks ago, the network devoted one hour to the town hall. Last week marked the first time since February the cable-news outlet has not aired one. Tonight’s schedule will also not include a town hall, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The network is not abandoning the format, this person says. A decision is made each week about whether to have one given the demands of the current news cycle, and that process is likely to continue. CNN declined to make executives available for comment.
CNN’s coverage of the pandemic continues in segments in various programs and in other special programming. The network is slated to air a second town hall centered around the pandemic for children and parents with producers from “Sesame Street” on Saturday morning (the special had previously been slated to air May 30, but was pre-empted for breaking news coverage). And on Sunday, CNN plans a special hour devoted to exploring the connection between bats and the spread of coronavirus. Like the town halls, that hour will be hosted by Cooper.
Other TV-news outlets are also keeping a focus on the coronavirus issue. On Saturday at 8 p.m., NBC’s “Dateline” plans a special hour devoted to an examination of whether government agencies could have contained or slowed down the pandemic if they had marshaled a different early response to it.