CNN Insider: ‘Zucker Has a Problem at 9 p.m.’ (Exclusive)

CNN Insider: 'Zucker Has a Problem at 9 p.m.' (Exclusive)

As the cable news chief marks his one-year anniversary, Jeff Zucker will soon determine the future of “Piers Morgan Live” as he turns his attention to fixing primetime

Piers Morgan is on ever more precarious footing as CNN's 9 p.m. talk show host, according to a knowledgeable insider at the network.

CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker addressed the staff at a town hall meeting on Wednesday to mark his one-year anniversary at the network, where he reaffirmed his intention to change up primetime, including a plan to move documentaries into the later hours.

“Zucker has a problem at 9 p.m.,” and the president intends to solve it, a senior CNN executive told TheWrap.

“Piers Morgan Live” has failed to deliver on ratings in the three years since the British host took over the format from Larry King.

Also read: The Year in Cable News: CNN Weathers Turbulent 2013 With New Leadership and Stable Ratings

For the week of Jan. 6, MSNBC's “Rachel Maddow Show” topped the time slot with 325,000 viewers in the coveted 25-54 news demographic, while Fox News’ “The Kelly File,” drew 305,000, and “Piers Morgan Tonight,” had 159,000, according to Nielsen.

Morgan's show has averaged less than half a million total viewers in recent weeks, while competitors draw closer to 1 million, more on par with predecessor Larry King.

Zucker has acknowledged multiple times that primetime needs a lot of work, and Morgan in particular may be the first target. The view from inside the network is that Morgan damaged himself by taking a strong partisan position against guns during his yearlong coverage of the gun debate.

Also read: CNN's Jeff Zucker: Fox News Is a Republican Front, and Roger Ailes Bio Confirms It

Morgan famously pontificated from the anchor chair in favor of gun control in the wake of the Washington Navy Yard Shooting in September, haranguing guests and in some cases mocking guests with opposing viewpoints.

“We have this debate every time. I want the day to come when we don't have to have this ridiculous debate time and again in America,” he said at the time. “AR-15, killing multiple Americans, I just cannot have this debate anymore, and it's ridiculous! … Think about how it helps save American lives because it doesn't! More guns is not the answer!”

In general, network brass is mulling whether an evening interview show format like the one King dominated for 25 years even works in this day and age.

Also read: CNN Shakes Up Daytime Lineup: ‘Around the World’ Being Pulled, New 11 A.M. Anchors Announced

Morgan's contract is up after the summer, and negotiations to re-up his contract would normally be expected to begin in the coming months.

Zucker has made clear his push for unscripted programming — like the successful Morgan Spurlock and Anthony Bourdain series that currently air on weekends — to take up some of the coveted weekday primetime schedule.

The tide has already shifted in that direction; CNN Films debuts a new documentary nearly every Thursday night, and the network announced last week it would start airing the weekly limited unscripted series “Chicagoland” starting March 6.

A CNN spokesperson had no comment.

Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.

  • Pat Geary

    It's just MSNBC for senior citizens

  • nelliebly

    Piers Morgan pontificates on most every topic that usually he knows little or nothing about. If he is dumped, it will not be because of his gun control advocacy, which by the by, likely galvanized more pro-gun fringe people, owing to Morgan's arrogance.
    He is so utterly shallow and uniformed; he manages to almost camouflage his idiocy by virtue of being fairly articulate. Morgan reached his nadir with his interview with the real life “Wolf of Wall Street,” a liar and cheat whom Morgan treated with inappropriate groveling. Morgan's question about the “wolf” meeting with his victims was ridiculous. Likely the victims want no part of the scoundrel. I think Morgan mixed him up with Madoff and his victims, many of them friends and associates, who want to know “why.” The so-called “wolf's” actions were self-explanatory; he didn't know his victims, only his own greed.
    On another show Morgan actually said the “wolf” was smart– “smart-ass” is really the correct description–and (hypothetically) if ever back in the brokerage business, Morgan would think about investing with him.
    That said everything about Morgan: cheating and violating people is just tabloid fun and giddiness. CNN should not let Morgan, if fired, get away with saying it was because of his gun control advocacy. By the way, it wasn't Jeff Zucker who hired Morgan, but his predecessor. But Zucker would do well to get rid of Morgan, a lazy, presumptuous fool who pontificates about this and that and nothing.

    • Nate

      totally agree with your opinion of PM (and I don't mean Peyton Manning, go Broncos!) – but enough with talking about the “wolf”, really annoying – if you don't want to use his name just go with JB

      • nelliebly

        I agree; I'll go with JB or the scoundrel's real name.

  • nelliebly

    When Morgan said the “wolf” took the life savings of people and the “wolf” said this was not so and he only took money from wealthy investors, Morgan should have asked: Maybe that hundred or two hundred thousand the architect (one of viewers who called in) lost to your scheme could have been his grandchild's college tuition? Is there a difference anyway between taking someone's life savings and stealing a hundred dollars from someone? A cheat is a cheat is a cheat.
    It is also hard to understand that wealthy investors would be dealing with a boiler room operation despite what the “wolf” said about 95% being legitimate and 5% illegitimate. Meanwhile, Morgan gave the “wolf” free publicity for his books, which Morgan found fascinating reading, and motivational speaking tours. The whole interview was unseemly.

  • nelliebly

    I suppose, in the amoral world of tabloid journalists, life savings versus a mere investment in a boiler room portfolio is akin to hacking the phone of parents of a murdered child versus hacking the phone of some celebrity who is not in extremis.

  • FTCS

    Zucker is having trouble with Piers and the 9:00PM time slot. What would you say about the other 23 hours wherein CNN still sucks? Okay, there have been a few good shows like Blackfish and Bourdain…but they are just additional deck chairs on the sinking CNN Zuctanic.

  • RedRiver38

    Sorry, but CNN is a wasteland. Bourdain is the only thing worth watching.

    • nelliebly

      Bourdain is superb. I also think Jake Tapper and John Berman are excellent.

      • Tfkalk

        All three are great and I think Michaela Periera is underused in the mornings.

  • ScottAguiar

    Bottom line is that CNN and MSNBC are having a very hard time going up against FOX's Megyn Kelly. If you have ever watched an episode of her show… you will know why she gets twice the viewers of Maddow and Morgan combined.

    • Barry1234

      you are correct- and Kelly regularly has guests on that disagree with her unlike Maddow. At least Piers will have guests on and actually debate them hard. Maddow rarely does that.

      • mike black

        Barry, i think that's a little disingenuous to say, b/c Maddow has invited many to appear on her show, sometimes offering to go to them, but for some reason, those potential guest routinely decline.

    • mike black

      hey Scott, i've watched Megyn, but i haven't picked up on it. can you help me? thx

  • Tfkalk

    The two times CNN needs to fix are mornings and 9 o'clock. How about Zucker get rid of Morgan, put Bolduan in his spot, and elevate Michaela Periera to co-anchor on New Day?

    • Nick

      I agree a 100%. I am tired of Pierce Morgan, send him back to England where he belong to, so I can start to watch CNN.

  • nelliebly

    The upcoming “Young Guns” on ABC's “20/20” with Diane Sawyer and David Muir and other like programs is much more powerful gun control advocacy than Piers Morgan shouting down guests or tweeting.

    • ergo

      And how many do you think will watch that?

  • ergo

    MSNBC and CNN should both be shutdown as left wing propaganda outlets and their ratings are proof of that.

  • kb

    I flip between CNN & FOX during the 9:00 hour. But mostly I watch Kelly and see what CNN has on during a commercial break. She is the best thing to happen to FOX.