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CNN needs opinion and we have one

April 20, 2010 at 8:04 a.m.
Updated April 19, 2010 at 11:20 p.m.

EDITORS: This story may not be used on Web sites () - (All times EDT)

By Verne Gay

Newsday

(MCT)

Today, we solve CNN's problems. And they are big ones.

Prime-time viewership fell 39 percent in the first three months of this year, in one of the worst declines ever and during two huge news stories - Haiti's earthquake and the health-care bill debate. An average 690,000 tune in most weeknights, well below MSNBC and a third of the Fox News audience.

What to do? Without gutting the avowed charter (news, absent obvious opinion) or the anchor team, there are solutions. To the suggestion box!

1. Differentiate. From 7 to 11 p.m., this is the John / Campbell / Larry / Anderson Show. With the exception of "Larry King Live," one show runs into another, each fundamentally the same. There's no obvious reason why people should get The News with Anderson Cooper at 10 when they can get The News with John King at 7 or Campbell Brown at 8. Any show on TV, particularly prime time, has to hook viewers with something unique and different. (How to do this? See No. 4.)

2. Declutter! CNN is in love with information - the more the merrier, and all of it jammed onto the screen at the same time. Crawls ... breakout boxes ... split-screens ... multiple talking heads ... CNN is the Land of Too Much Info. Strip it down. Make it clean and simple.

3. Flip "Larry King Live" with "Anderson Cooper 360." ''AC360" should be the prime-time centerpiece at 9, not Larry's old soft-shoe Q&A, which would work better on the edges of late night.

4. Merge John King and Campbell Brown into one 8 p.m. broadcast. Have one anchor from the studio, the other out on the road - always. (Let them fight over who gets that job.) King's good, but his new "John King USA" feels redundant and talky; moreover, viewers often see only the anchor's hand as it lovingly caresses the "magic wall" in the studio. It's like watching a disembodied PowerPoint presentation.

5. Revive "Crossfire" at 7. CNN needs to get off its high horse and get back into the opinion game. That's what viewers are buying, so give it to them. (A big number at 7 would help the rest of the night, too.) Every news organization needs a forum for opinion - 7 is exactly the right place for it.

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Verne Gay: verne.gay@newsday.com

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(c) 2010, Newsday.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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