Nexstar Media Group’s fledgling NewsNation cable network is shuffling its programming lineup to add a nightly live show hosted by Dan Abrams and a three-hour morning news block anchored by Adrienne Bankert.
Both shows begin Sept. 27. “Dan Abrams Live,” to air at 8 p.m. ET, is described as a news analysis program that he asserts will be “less overtly partisan” that other cable news primetime hours. Abrams is a former anchor of ABC’s late-night mainstay “Nightline.” He will continue in his role as chief legal analyst for ABC News even with his new nightly berth on NewsNation.
Abrams emphasized that the goal is not to score partisan points but to examine complicated issues, from foreign policy to domestic battles such as the current state and federal conflicts over voting rights legislation.
“I want to have a civil conversation that I hope the audience walks away from with more information and a firmer opinion about whether they’re with me or against me on a variety of issues,” Abrams told Variety. He intends to have guests who will challenge his analysis. “We can show you don’t need to demonize people with whom you disagree,” he said.
Bankert, meanwhile, will anchor the 7-10 a.m. ET “Morning in America” program. NewsNation signaled its plans to launch a beachhead in the lucrative morning news arena when Nexstar recruited “Good Morning America” weekend alum Adrienne Bankert as an anchor in April. The following month, longtime “GMA” executive producer Michael Corn joined NewsNation as president of news.
The news makeover of WGN America launched Sept. 1, 2020, with a three-hour nightly news block in primetime. The channel will have added 26 hours of news and talk programming since then by the time Abrams and “Morning” bow in late September.
With Abrams moving into the 8:00 p.m. slot, NewsNation’s primetime news block drops to one hour at 9 p.m. ET. But in primetime, news will drop from two hours to one, at 9 p.m. NewsNation has a 6 p.m. ET newscast, followed by opinion program “The Donlan Report” at 7 p.m. MSNBC alum Ashleigh Banfield signed on in March as host of the 10 p.m. ET interview series “Banfield.” NewsNation as of today is launching another news-analysis program, “On Balance With Leland Vittert,” but that show is now clearly a warm-up for Abrams’ debut in the fall and will move to a new time slot after Abrams premieres.
“Morning” will originate from NewsNation’s home base at Chicago’s WGN-TV. “Dan Abrams Live” will beam out from the studios of Nexstar’s WPIX-TV New York. NewsNation plans to hire about 100 journalists and production staff to run “Morning” and another 25 or so for “Dan Abrams Live,” according to Sean Compton, Nexstar’s president of networks.
“We’re still in building mode and we are continuing to expand,” Compton told Variety. “Dan and Adrienne are the most recent examples. Nexstar has given us their full support. We are just getting started.”
Compton acknowledges that NewsNation has been an uphill battle to date by the measurement of ratings. The channel’s total day viewership hovers around 110,000 viewers and only about 28,000-30,000 in primetime. That’s microscopic from an advertising sales perspective. But Nexstar doesn’t see a more attractive programming strategy for the cable network that is well-distributed at 75 million homes.
For one, Nexstar’s options for acquiring high-wattage programming from Hollywood’s top producers are shrinking as the largest studios focus on nurturing new subscription streaming platforms, not licensing shows to outside buyers. Sports programming is already too expensive to chase and lifestyle programming is already over-saturated on cable.
Nexstar already owns nearly 200 TV stations that collectively employ some 5,500 local journalists to produce news. The vision behind NewsNation is to harness those resources for national broadcasts that draw on the wide range of material produced under the Nexstar umbrella on any given day. Compton is quick to note that Fox News Channel and MSNBC took time to build after bowing in 1996; CNN was derided as “Chicken Noodle News” for years after its 1980 launch.
“We’re discovering what works and what doesn’t and continuing to enhance what we do,” Compton said. “It was always our intention to hire network-level talent like Dan and Adrienne and Michael.”
NewsNation’s shift in focus of extended breaking news broadcasts to morning hours reflects the larger swing in viewership trends. For more than a decade, the toughest competition in TV news has come in the 7-9 a.m. berth. Today, the local and national the a.m. playing field stretches from 4-11 a.m.
Bankert will be the solo anchor but she will have a “large supporting cast,” Compton said.
Nexstar and NewsNation have also faced questioning in industry circles about whether its newscasts would embrace an overtly conservative perspective, at a time when a number of other upstart news outlets are doing so (Newsmax, One America Network). Compton and Nexstar CEO Perry Sook have repeatedly asserted that the goal for shows not identified as opinion programming (such as 7 p.m.’s “The Donlan Report”) is down-the-middle reporting from a centrist perspective befitting a company headquartered in Irving, Texas, and a news operation based in Chicago.
The “Morning in America” moniker for Bankert’s show recalls the famously effective TV political ad for President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign. NewsNation leaders say the show will not be opinion programming.
“This show will be a conversation, putting stories in context and getting behind the headlines. And we are going to have fun. Even if people wake up on the so-called ‘wrong side of the bed,’ I want them to turn on the TV and be not only more informed, but feel better, even happier watching us,” Bankert said in a statement. “I believe we are called to a higher standard at NewsNation — to offer a variety of viewpoints across America and give dignity to every voice.”
Abrams also vowed to avoid both-sides-ism in presenting differing viewpoints on his show. “You can be pro-law enforcement and anti-racism,” he said. “You can be pro-Israel and pro-Iran nuclear deal.”
Abrams will likely focus on issues of politics and law and “the most buzzed-about stories of the day,” he said. “This is not a headlines show. I’m not going to be reading news. This is an analytical show and when I do have a guest it will be a single guest. I don’t believe that there’s any value to having two people yell at each other any more.”
Abrams also hosts a daily hour for Sirius XM, “The Dan Abrams Show,” part of the satellite radio giant’s POTUS Politics vertical. And he is a digital entrepreneur whose investments include the news and politics website Mediaite.
Before joining ABC News in 2011, Abrams spent 15 years as a reporter and anchor for NBC News and MSNBC.
(Pictured: Dan Abrams and Adrienne Bankert)