If you turned on CNN at three o’clock this morning, you might’ve thought for a moment your cable lineup had undergone some kind of dead-of-night lineup adjustment. There, instead of a live international news simulcast of CNN International, was a years-old repeat of Forensic Files, the syrupy true-crime strip that runs seemingly continuously on CNN’s sister network HLN (and was, in fact, also running at 3 a.m. ET on HLN–a twofer for folks who maybe don’t want dull “news”).
Alas, the only change was CNN’s schedule, which cut the overnight CNN International simulcast to one hour, at 1 a.m. ET. From 2- 4 a.m. ET, it’s four back-to-back-to-back-to-back episodes of Forensic Files–a show old enough most of its episodes air in 4-by-3.
So if you were counting on CNN for live coverage of world news, you had to look elsewhere. If, however, you wanted to learn more about the “breathtaking beaches and beautiful bodies” of Southern California and the sordid 1995 disappearance of a swimsuit model–well, the Most Trusted Name in News had you covered.
The switch of live news for true crime means people living in the Pacific time zone lose their live news not in the dead of night, but in late night–starting at 11pmPT. And many took to Twitter to express their displeasure.
@CNN why do you stop running CNN international news on the west coast from 11:00PM – 2:00PM pst? We’re stuck with forensic files? No!
— Mary Stone (@Learnmary) June 17, 2015
— DRBerry (@DougRayBerry) June 17, 2015
@CNN please bring back news at 2am etc forensic files is unwanted old and repeats
— karind1 (@karind1) June 17, 2015
— Mark Hoyer (@MarkTHoyer) June 17, 2015
CNN under boss Jeff Zucker has increasingly pursued documentary style programming like Anthony Bourdain‘s Parts Unknown and documentary special events like The Seventies, leading competitors, like Fox News, to joke about the network’s commitment to real news:
Fox News CEO Roger Ailes told THR last year that CNN is “out of the news business.”
Zucker laughs at the rhetoric: “It’s absurd on its face. The fact is, we’re doing more news than we’ve ever done. We’re doing more news than anybody else. Part of our strategy has been to mount series programming because you can’t exclusively rely on just what you’d classify as traditional news.
CNN put Forensic Files on the schedule last June as well, and while that may have been questionable in journalistic terms, it drew an audience, and served as a stronger lead-in for Early Start and New Day:
Compared to the two-week time period before it started airing daily overnight (May 23-June 5), “Early Start,” which airs from 5am-6amET, is up +48% in viewers, and up +79% in A25-54 viewers. “New Day” from 6am-9amET is up +17% in viewers and +38% in demo viewers. The ratings information blends a mix of Live +7 day and Live+ same-day viewership; a combination that includes DVR viewing in its ratings measurements.
Forensic Files is often among the highest-rated programs in cable news, so the business logic is solid. And, as we’ve said before, it’s not like we really have “24-hour cable news” anyway.
So enjoy. A CNN insider says news will return next week. Meanwhile, back at Forensic Files, it was a quiet night in 1991, when a farmhouse in rural Upstate New York went up in flames. Hours later, firefighters made a gruesome discovery…