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Don Lemon’s abrupt departure from CNN will mean another shuffling of its morning-show lineup — a distressingly familiar scenario at the cable news outlet.
Lemon was fired from the network on April 24 (after having anchored that day’s CNN This Morning), writing on Twitter that “I am stunned. … At no time was I ever given any indication that I would not be able to continue to do the work I have loved at the network.” CNN said in a statement that Lemon was “offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter.”
Lemon’s tenure as a co-anchor of CNN This Morning lasted less than six months; there’s no word yet on who, if anyone, will join fellow anchors Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow for the time being. But the returns on the show, which debuted in November 2022 as CNN’s latest attempt to fix its morning offerings, weren’t great.
For the first quarter of the year, CNN This Morning averaged just 359,000 viewers, well behind cable rivals Fox and Friends (1.2 million) on Fox News and Morning Joe (846,000) on MSNBC. Its first months on the air weren’t much better, as CNN This Morning (along with the final weeks of predecessor New Day) averaged 405,000 viewers and remained a distant third among cable news morning shows.
It’s not just morning, either. CNN’s primetime trailed Fox News and MSNBC in total viewers in the first quarter in both total viewers and in the key news demographic of adults 25-54. Anderson Cooper 360 managed a second-place finish in the demo at 8 p.m., but CNN Primetime and CNN Tonight were third in both measures. CNN CEO Chris Licht on April 22 unveiled a new weekly primetime show, King Charles, to be hosted by Gayle King and Charles Barkley, in hopes of drawing more viewers to the network in the evenings.
In a brief memo to staff announcing Lemon’s departure, Licht wrote, “CNN This Morning has been on the air for nearly six months, and we are committed to its success.”
On Tuesday’s show, Collins and Harlow had kind words for Lemon and wished him well, echoing a statement in Licht’s memo. “Don was a big part of this show over the last six months. He was one of the first anchors on CNN to have me on his show,” Collins said. “That’s something I’ll obviously never forget. I agree with Chris. We wish him the best.”
The announcement of CNN This Morning was Licht’s first big programming move, as he moved Lemon out of primetime and teamed him with Collins and Harlow. The big swing didn’t make much difference in the ratings, though it made headlines in a negative way over reports that Lemon clashed with Collins off-air and after he said Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley “Isn’t in her prime.” Lemon apologized for the latter remark and was absent for a few days while undergoing what Licht termed “formal training.” (Haley, incidentally, is now using Lemon’s firing to raise money for her campaign.)
CNN’s morning real estate has been marked by turnover in the past two decades, with Lemon’s exit the latest in a long line of shakeups big and small. The network launched American Morning in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and while the program ran for 10 years, it cycled through more than a dozen anchors in that time. Starting Point followed and lasted only about 17 months. New Day, which debuted in 2013, was arguably the most stable of the bunch, with Alisyn Camerota and Chris Coumo anchoring together for five years and Camerota staying on with John Berman after Cuomo began his primetime show on CNN.
As New Day flagged in the ratings, however, Licht opted to wind the show down and replace it with CNN This Morning. Fewer than six months after its debut, the show now faces having to retool after Lemon’s ouster.
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