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After what was widely seen as a tryout for a primetime show, Jake Tapper is returning to afternoons following the midterms.
CNN had positioned its Sept. 22 primetime shake-up — which saw Tapper take over the 9 p.m. ET spot, with Alisyn Camerota and Laura Coates co-hosting the 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. hours — as a temporary one ahead of the November elections. But TV news insiders viewed it as a test for a permanent spot in the lineup. Among the big “gets” during his run were a rare interview with President Biden and the fake heiress Anna Sorokin.
On Wednesday night’s show, during a segment with Jimmy Kimmel, Tapper said he was returning to the 4 p.m. hour “because of my family” and added, “it was always a short-term thing.”
At the 9 p.m. hour, Tapper was competing with MSNBC’s Alex Wagner and Fox News’ Sean Hannity during an hour traditionally seen as one of the most coveted for TV news anchors. During October, Tapper’s primetime CNN hour averaged 540,000 viewers, a distant third to Fox News and MSNBC.
Following the election, Tapper will return to host The Lead, which airs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., as well as State of the Union, which he co-hosts Sunday at 9 a.m. with Dana Bash. (Semafor first reported Tapper’s post-election plans.)
Since launching his primetime hour with a Biden interview Oct. 11, Tapper mixed policy with newsmaking interviews, including with Hollywood talent promoting projects like Dwayne Johnson (Black Adam), F. Murray Abraham (White Lotus) and Elizabeth Banks (Call Jane). The overall approach appeared calculated to land less as a political news-cycle-driven show than as a flagship evening hour for the network.
Tapper as a permanent primetime host was also expected, in part, due to the shift from Licht (formerly the executive producer of CBS This Morning) to send former primetime host Don Lemon to the a.m. hours. The network had announced Sept. 15 that it was pairing Lemon with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins for a new show, later titled CNN This Morning, which premiered Monday.
The programming lineup reshuffling arrives as CNN undergoes a broader restructuring from the Jeff Zucker-run era at WarnerMedia to its new corporate overlords at the David Zaslav-run Warner Bros. Discovery, which has implemented rounds of cost-cutting.
After pulling the plug on Zucker’s streaming bet CNN+ less than a month after its launch, which resulted in 239 staffers impacted via cuts, the network canceled its media show Reliable Sources and parted ways with host Brian Stelter, reworked its on-air contributor lineup, and cut back on commissioning film and TV projects from outside firms.
More change is expected, as Licht signaled in an Oct. 26 memo to staff that forecast more layoffs and restructuring work that “will accelerate.” Licht added that employees should expect “noticeable change to this organization. That, by definition, is unsettling. These changes will not be easy because they will affect people, budgets, and projects.”
In the same memo, Licht mentioned that, “We are beginning to reimagine our morning and primetime lineups, officially launching our new morning show next week.” With Tapper now bowing out of primetime, there’s clearly more moves ahead as the network repositions those hours.
Alex Weprin contributed reporting.
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Thomas Brodie Sangster