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CNN, MSNBC shuffling the decks

ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES (LEFT); HEIDI GUTMAN Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie will anchor a morning political news show on MSNBC called “The Daily Rundown.’’
ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES (LEFT); HEIDI GUTMAN
Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie will anchor a morning political news show on MSNBC called “The Daily Rundown.’’ (Alex Wong/Getty Images (Left); Heidi Gutman)
By Matea Gold
Los Angeles Times / January 1, 2010

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WASHINGTON - After getting mixed ratings report cards in 2009, CNN and MSNBC are adjusting their lineups in the coming weeks as they try to lure back viewers who drifted away after the 2008 election.

The changes at the two channels come after a year in which Fox News grew even stronger, bolstered by outspoken hosts such as Glenn Beck, who used his show to rally opposition to the Obama administration.

In prime time, Fox News averaged 2.2 million viewers, a 7 percent rise over 2008, the network’s best showing in its 13-year history, according to Nielsen.

Remarkably, every program on the network’s schedule expanded its audience in 2009. Beck, the channel’s newest hire, averaged 2.4 million in his 5 p.m. show, a 95 percent boost for the time period. The Bret Baier-anchored newscast “Special Report,’’ which follows Beck, grew 25 percent to 2 million viewers. And Bill O’Reilly continued his reign as the most-watched cable news host, logging 3.3 million, a spike of 13 percent.

Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC, which enjoyed the biggest gains during the 2008 election, both lost viewers in prime time this year. CNN dropped 30 percent to an average of 903,000 viewers, while MSNBC fell 12 percent to an average of 811,000.

But MSNBC’s ability to hold on to a bigger share of its audience helped the network reach a prime-time milestone in 2009: For the first time, it beat CNN among 25- to 54-year-old viewers, the age group most sought after by advertisers. MSNBC averaged 280,000, a drop-off of 24 percent, while CNN fell 42 percent to 264,000.

Rachel Maddow was a particular bright spot for MSNBC, increasing her total audience by 14 percent over 2008 and matching CNN’s Larry King in the advertising demographic.

“I think for the first time we have appointment viewing,’’ said MSNBC President Phil Griffin. “That’s the difference between us and CNN.’’

CNN executives stressed that the network still logged its biggest audiences in five years, aside from its record-setting ratings in 2008, and handily beat MSNBC in the full day.

Coming out of the election, CNN has emphasized its news chops, arguing that its neutral reporting makes it singular in cable news.

CNN dropped its last opinion show in November when longtime anchor Lou Dobbs left the network after his commentaries on immigration drew protests. He will be replaced early next year by John King, a veteran political reporter.

The network’s afternoon lineup is also undergoing some tweaks. Beginning Jan. 18, “The Situation Room’’ will start an hour later to make room for a new two-hour show dubbed “Rick’s List,’’ anchored by Rick Sanchez, who uses his Twitter feed to shape news segments.

MSNBC, meanwhile, is remaking its daytime lineup.

Beginning Jan. 11, former CNBC anchor Dylan Ratigan will lose his two-hour morning time slot and move to 4 p.m. He’s being replaced by Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie, NBC’s White House correspondents, who will anchor a 9 a.m. political news show called the “The Daily Rundown.’’ The rest of the day will include a lineup of newscasts with solo anchors.

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