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Changes Afoot at Two CNNs

1/16/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

Los Angeles —Just as Cable News Network is shifting its focus, sister service CNN Headline News next month will unveil a revamped evening format.

As part of a major scheduling change, Headline News will break from its hard-news, wheel format to feature more entertainment and talk-show fare. Beginning on Feb. 21, the network’s “Headline Prime” lineup will start with Showbiz Tonight, a live show led by former CNN Talk Back Live host Karyn Bryant and former VH1 personality A.J. Hammer, weeknights at 7 p.m. ET.

CNN News Group executive vice president Ken Jautz said at the network’s Television Critics Association tour session here Jan. 12 that Showbiz Tonight, featuring a comprehensive mix of stories, reports, in-studio interviews and debates surrounding the latest happenings in the entertainment world, will be followed by Nancy Grace, a one-hour talk show hosted by the Court TV legal analyst at 8 p.m.

At 9 p.m., the network will run a one-hour block of news dubbed Prime News Tonight. The block will repeat at 10 p.m., with Prime News Tonight again airing live.

Headline News will feature news updates on the half hour, as well as provide a news ticker on the bottom of the screen throughout.

The changes at Headline News will unfold as CNN — having fallen well behind Fox News Channel in the cable-news rating race — looks to revitalize its position.

Under the leadership of CNN U.S. president Jonathan Klein, CNN says it wants to showcase more news, punctuated by human-interest piece and story telling.

In short, Klein wants CNN to report the news, rather than, as he has publicly criticized Fox News Channel for, talk about it.

Klein’s commitment toward news reporting, as opposed to opinion shows, is underscored by the decision to pull the plug on long-running Crossfire, and his agreement with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart’s assessment, when he appeared on the show, that it had become a vehicle for partisanship.

In discussing the new look Headline News, Jautz said the changes were made to boost primetime viewership, which were flat in 2004 with a 0.2 household average. “There’s so much competition now and there are so many news Web sites that by the time you get to primetime, people who are interested in the news know the basic headlines of the day,” Jautz said. “By offering people more choices, different types of news and information shows, we can bring more people to the CNN brand.”

CNN News Group president Jim Walton told the assembled pundits that operators have given their thumbs up to the network’s primetime plan. “We have great relationships with operators,” he said. “This is not going to be a surprise to anybody, and they are rooting for us.”

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