In the past few months, CNN had its worst ratings in 21 years and president Jim Walton stepped down because, as he put it, “CNN needs new thinking.” According to a New York Post report, someone was definitely thinking outside the box when they came up with the network’s new strategy. While CNN has been trying to position itself as the nonpartisan alternative to MSNBC and Fox News, the network is now looking for new on-air personalities at Hollywood talent agencies and considering ideas for reality programs. An anonymous producer who’s attended the meetings says it’s like, “that moment when MTV decided to stop playing music videos.”
Perhaps a more accurate description would be the moment Bravo, Discovery, and History gave up on semi-educational programming for the likes of Real Housewives and Pawn Stars, since CNN is said to be consulting with the production companies that supply those networks with reality shows. Anthony Bourdain’s previously announced Sunday night travel show may be a harbinger of things to come. The network is working on five reality programs in the same vein, as well as a late-night version of The View.
If the plan actually comes to fruition, the network will undoubtedly be bashed by critics, since news with a strong entertainment angle is probably not what James Earl Jones was picturing when he intoned, “This is CNN.” However, more reality programming could be a smart business move for CNN. When lamenting that MTV stopped playing music videos, people often fail to note that its ostensibly unscripted series were huge ratings successes. Plus, if your network is staffed by the likes of Lauren Conrad and Snooki, people are far more forgiving when you botch a report on a landmark Supreme Court decision.