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

Last Updated: July 10, 2014 @ 7:07 PM

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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