Back when his show debuted in late March, John King told an interviewer: “I don’t care at all about how they look after three days, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. If you come back to me after three weeks, and especially three months, then we can have a more serious conversation about that.” Okay, John — it’s been three months. Time to have that serious conversation? The second-quarter Nielsen ratings are in, and for the first three-month period during which King fully ran the show, total viewership was down 41 percent from the same time the previous year, when Lou Dobbs still helmed the seven o’clock hour. This quarter, King had an average of 450,000 total viewers, which lead into 477,000 during the next hour, hosted by Campbell Brown (who herself was down 38 percent from last year). In May, after having two months of King as a lead-in stint and four more months of post-Dobbs programming, Brown quit CNN over her own ratings. Would things have been different with a stronger lead-in?
Brown hasn’t said when she made her decision, or whether her troubled neighboring programming was a problem for her. But it’s trouble that’s going to stick around: When Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker start their roundtable show in the fall, chances are King will still be their lead-in. And they’ll be followed by Larry King, who will still be running out his contract, and whose 9 p.m. show just had its worst quarter ever. Building up a strong core audience is hard enough; doing so while also pulling against downward momentum on both sides of you is downright imposing, like starting a sprint with dumbbells in each hand. Add to that the fact that Parker and Spitzer are going to also have to try to reach out to yank viewers from MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, and you get a truly tough spot.
Good thing both Parker and Spitzer are tough cookies. And that between them, they have four arms.