In keeping with Jeff Zucker's mandate to evolve away from the traditional newscast, CNN in its Thursday upfront presentation announced another surge in original programing.
With the departure of Piers Morgan, the nightly 9 p.m. slot will no longer be occupied by a news-focused talk show. Instead, the prime time slot will serve as the home for unscripted reality TV-style shows or documentaries.
Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide, noted that the four most watched series on the network were Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man, Chicagoland and Death Row Stories. Since news is about storytelling, it made sense that these programs fit in with the network, he added.
“Clearly there’s an audience for it. Clearly it’s resonating,” Zucker told Adweek. “There’s a pool of advertisers for news, and there’s a pool of advertisers for broader programing, and we want to be able to tap into both.”
The network will introducing four new series in addition to renewing many of its franchise shows. Somebody’s Gotta Do It will be hosted by Mike Rowe, who became a household name for his show Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. The Hunt with Jon Walsh of America’s Most Wanted renown will tackle ongoing international criminal investigations, while The Jesus Code promises to take viewers on a “forensic and archaeological journey through the Bible.”
Lastly, the Oprah Winfrey Network’s Lisa Ling joins CNN to host a currently untitled series that will investigate unusual, and sometimes dangerous, American sub-cultures.
“I love OWN, but I feel like my show belongs on CNN,” Ling told Adweek.
CNN will also feature in-house produced documentaries during the 9 p.m. slot, with an eye toward duplicating the success of the 2013 exposé, Blackfish. These one-hour films will range in topic from a biographical portrait of the late film critic Roger Ebert to an investigation into the struggles of a former Navy officer who is transitioning to become a woman.
Erin Burnett Outfront at 7 p.m. and Anderson Cooper 360 at 8 p.m. will lead into the original programing hour. At 10 p.m., CNN will air a live one-hour news program titled CNN Today, which will track the day’s biggest stories. The newscast will utilize rotating hosts.
CNN’s lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer echoed Zucker’s excitement for the new shows.
“People like important news, but to be told in a compelling way, and a magazine format like that on television can be very good,” Blitzer said.