There’s no debate that CNN’s “John King USA” had trouble finding its footing in the first year of production. Anxious to blast the program, critics and bloggers hit “publish” on reviews even before King signed off his debut show in March of 2010. Bashed for being too straightforward in a sea of 7pm opinion journalism and then trashed for adding controversial contributors like Redstate.com’s Erik Erickson, it seemed King couldn’t catch a break. Sure, ratings have been rocky but his magic wall, his wardrobe, even King’s all-American good looks have become targets of critical fodder.
And then there’s Tara Palmeri – the former CNN desk assistant turned gossip columnist who now grinds her axe with King on the pages of the News Corp-owned NY Post. Palmeri, who in 2009 left her entry-level gig with the network, heads up efforts to humiliate CNN for Page Six. Although she spent less than a year as a contract employee in the network’s DC bureau, Palmeri has managed to conjure up inside sources to fuel rumors of “John King USA’s” demise since July of last year. This week (8 months later), she reported that network execs are searching for a minority host – comedian Chris Rock, the piece strangely suggests – to fill King’s 7pm hour.
But whether or not there’s any truth to the ever-churning rumor mill, King’s recent spike in ratings has surely caught the attention of CNN brass. For the month of March, the program’s one-year anniversary, “John King USA” enjoyed its best numbers ever, topping MSNBC’s “Hardball” in both total viewers (850k vs. 722k) and in the key demo, adults ages 24-54 (315k vs. 207k). Despite the catty gossip columns and broody blog posts, King’s viewership grew a whopping 132% in the demo (25-54) and 64% in total viewers vs. the same period one year ago.
A strong start to John’s King-size comeback, last month’s success seems to be carrying over into April. For the first two weeks of this month, “JK USA” gave Chris Matthews a run for his money by winning the demo (211k to 176k) – a 92% increase in key audience compared to last year (110k) . Only time will tell if CNN can hold on to its belated success in the 7 pm time slot but if you’re counting on Chris Rock to push King from his throne, brace yourself for a long and fruitful relationship with John’s magic wall.