Campbell Brown’s CNN Run: Much Risk, Little Reward

By Chris Ariens 

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Three years ago, after a successful 11-year run at NBC News Campbell Brown jumped to CNN. It wasn’t immediately clear how CNN would use their new hire, that came in to focus the following day as Paual Zahn announced she was leaving CNN.

For Brown, the move from NBC to CNN was a bet she was willing to make.

“What I am doing carries risk, but I wanted the challenge,” Brown told TVNewser during a conference call the day she was hired.

Tonight, in a brutally honest and humbling statement, Brown announced she was leaving the network. “As for why,” she writes, “I could have said, that I am stepping down to spend more time with my children (which I truly want to do). Or that I am leaving to pursue other opportunities (which I also truly want to do). But I have never had much tolerance for others’ spin, so I can’t imagine trying to stomach my own.”

When CNN president Jon Klein wooed Brown to CNN in the summer of 2007, she was entering the second trimester of her first pregnancy. Brown gave birth to baby Eli in December of that year. Her primetime premiere would have to wait until February of 2008. But by then the presidential primaries became the story, and Brown began anchoring a program called “Election Center.”

Her own primetime show, one Brown could make her own, would have to wait: “I think it’s going to be fairly similar in terms of content,” she told TVNewser during the RNC convention. “We’ll try to stick with the CNN mission which is that diversity of opinion. The name is going to change, but the focus won’t for a while.” That program, “No Bias, No Bull” debuted in October 2008.

Six months later Brown gave birth to a second son, Asher. When she returned form maternity leave, “No Bias, No Bull” was dropped in favor of the eponymous “Campbell Brown.” A few weeks later, Brown’s 8pm show hit an all-time low. “Campbell Brown,” and much of CNN’s primetime, was on the decline and has struggled since.

“The simple fact is that not enough people want to watch my program,” she writes in her statement, “and I owe it to myself and to CNN to get out of the way so that CNN can try something else.”

When she left NBC News for CNN, Brown was the co-anchor of Weekend “Today” and was Brian Williams’ primary fill-in on “Nightly News.” That broadcast averages 8 million viewers a night. Last night, Brown’s show averaged 353,000.