Nancy Grace Exit: What’s Next for HLN Without Its Biggest Star?

CNN’s sister network may need yet another rebranding

Nancy Grace dassey
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Nancy Grace announced on Thursday that she is leaving HLN when her contract expires in October, which prompts the question: What will HLN look like without the face of the network?

Losing Grace will undoubtedly impact the primetime viewership unless CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker has a trick up his sleeve in terms of a replacement. One change has been in the works for quite some time, as former CNN “New Day” co-host Michaela Pereira will debut her own show on HLN next month.

“This is news to me, I’m still trying to process it. I just know that Nancy wouldn’t have it any other way … we just carry on, doing what we do,” Pereira told TheWrap regarding Grace’s exit. “I think she is a tremendous lady.”

HLN has publicly stated that an announcement regarding the 8 p.m. ET time slot will be made in the coming months with a goal of utilizing the “expertise of the current team” that is already in place at Grace’s Atlanta headquarters.

A HLN spokesperson told TheWrap that Grace’s replacement won’t be an existing HLN personality but didn’t rule out someone from CNN crossing over to fill the primetime slot.

The network has struggled to find an identity for quite some time. It was originally designed to be a 30-minute newscast that repeated 24 hours a day with necessary updates. HLN has rebranded three times since 2014, going from news to a “crime time” network to one built on social media before dropping the social media focus to, once again, concentrate on news. Zucker even held an all-staff meeting back in 2014 just to squash rumors that the network was for sale.

With CNN’s massive push toward original programming, it would make sense to simply rebrand, again, as CNN 2 and fill the schedule with repeats of shows such as “The Eighties,” “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and “The Wonder List with Bill Weir.”

This would allow Robin Meade to keep her morning show, but would also help with CNN’s on-going issue of highly promoted original content being preempted for breaking news. Just last month, CNN was forced to bump the music episode of “The Eighties” for coverage of the missing EgyptAir flight.

“I think my bosses understand that if you’re going to create a destination for people to anticipate original series that you have to have some consistency on the schedule there,” Weir told TheWrap back in March.

Zucker has often said that news comes first on CNN, but the option to move content to a sister station would provide consistency and seems to work well for ESPN and ESPN 2.

Despite Grace’s popularity and name recognition, her show isn’t exactly a ratings juggernaut in the cable news landscape. In the second quarter of 2016, Grace ranked No. 44 among cable news programs in total viewers, just behind Fox News’ “Red Eye,” which airs at 3 a.m. ET. That said, Grace finished Q2 as the most-watched show on HLN, averaging 302,000 viewers to finish slightly ahead of “Morning Express with Robin Meade” and repeats of “Forensic Files.”

HLN finished Q2 as the No. 46 network among basic cable during primetime and No. 33 in total day. Zucker could even decide that CNN’s new digital brand, Great Big Story, could produce content that eventually lands on HLN.

“Great Big Story is a new network, not a news network,” Zucker said at last month’s Newfront event. “A new network with a new distribution model, a new audience and new opportunities.”

The network is launching “The Great Big Show,” a long-form weekly TV program that will present the very best of Great Big Story’s global storytelling. The Turner-owned network that “The Great Big Show” airs on remains a mystery, but HLN was always considered a frontrunner given Zucker’s involvement.

As of now, the only thing we know for sure is that HLN will lose the network’s most popular star in mid-October.