CNN improves ratings with Piers Morgan but still has miles to go in prime time
Well, it's a mixed bag. His Thursday show with Ricky Gervais drew 1 million total viewers, according to the Nielsen Co. That's exactly how many showed up for the Wednesday outing with Condoleezza Rice. That suggests that, one week in, Morgan might be settling in to a respectable if not eye-popping level that puts him slightly ahead of MSNBC's Rachel Maddow at 9 p.m.
The good news for CNN is that Morgan is, so far, way ahead of where Larry King was in his final days in prime time. For the last three months of last year, "Larry King Live" was averaging 657,000 total viewers — a miserable figure that brought frowns to the network's executive suite.
But Morgan has a long way to go to really make a dent in CNN's prime-time problems. He's now drawing fewer than half the viewers he did for Monday's premiere with Oprah Winfrey (2.1 million), and got beat by Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity every night this week — lately by a 2-to-1 margin.
It's very early in the game, though, and CNN says everything is going according to plan."The show is off to a great start," a CNN spokeswoman said via e-mail. "We're incredibly pleased." Skeptics should note that Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, who's had for years the No. 1 cable news program, grasped for ratings traction too at first. Morgan's show is also a vital test of CNN's continuing strategy to counterprogram Fox and MSNBC, which are reaping dividends with an opinion-based format. CNN is sticking to public affairs, news and celebrity interviews.
One big problem that CNN must address: Morgan's lead-in at 8 p.m., the ill-fated "Parker Spitzer." On Thursday, the program hosted by Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker averaged 522,000 viewers. As long as the low-rated "Parker Spitzer" occupies the lead-off position, CNN is going to have a tough time turning around its prime-time fortunes.
— Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)
Photo: Piers Morgan is the host of CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight." Credit: CNN.