CNN Wont Face TV Critics


Cable News Network, which is about to announce layoffs and is still finalizing its revamped primetime schedule, canceled a planned presentation at the Television Critics Association press tour this week, officials said.

CNN talent and executives had been scheduled to hold a panel Tuesday (Jan. 16) at the TCA's winter gathering in Pasadena, Calif. Now, network officials won't have to face a grilling from the nation's assembled TV critics about the looming layoffs at the CNN News Group, which may occur this week.

With the newly completed merger of America Online Inc. and TBS Inc. parent Time Warner Inc., CNN is expected to lay off employees from across its television and online businesses. Published reports have put the cuts at from 500 to 1,000 jobs.

Back in December, CNN officials issued a staff memo that warned of looming "aggressive changes" and a company-wide reorganization.

CNN was slated to stage its TCA session during the four-hour block that Turner Broadcasting System Inc. was allotted for its stable of networks, which include Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation. Now, not only won't CNN take part, but a Turner spokesman said the air date for the original movie TBS Superstation was set to talk about has been pushed back.

As a result, TBS Inc. will now focus on TNT during its TCA presentation. That session will probably be cut short, since CNN won't be presenting, the Turner spokesman said.

A CNN spokeswoman said that the 24-hour news network had decided not to go forward with its planned panel "for a combination" of reasons.

"We are not going to present at the TCA tour because we are still in transition with our primetime lineup," the CNN spokeswoman said.

In an effort to boost its sagging ratings and create destination shows, CNN is retooling its primetime lineup by adding more programs driven by single anchors-marquee talent such as Wolf Blitzer, Greta Van Susteren and Jeff Greenfield. The approach is similar to Fox News Channel. All of the details of CNN's new primetime schedule have not yet been nailed down, however.

In addition, the all-news network was having problems in making its executives and talent available for the trip to Pasadena to address the TV writers, the CNN spokeswoman said. The officials are in the thick of preparing for the post AOL-merger changes, which include the layoffs, while the talent is getting ready to cover the inauguration of President-elect Bush.

CNN enjoyed a huge ratings boost in the fourth quarter, because of the presidential election and the subsequent recount battle. But the network was flat in primetime in 2000, with a 0.8 rating, compared with the prior year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In contrast, upstart FNC was up 40 percent in primetime in 2000, to a 0.7 rating.

CNN hasn't missed a TCA presentation for several years, with either CNN Group chairman Tom Johnson or CNN president Rick Kaplan-who left the troubled network last year-usually participating.

Even after the "Operation Tailwind" debacle in 1998, CNN came to the TCA and took the heat from TV critics. Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner himself appeared at CNN's TCA session and delivered a mea culpa
over the network's report on the alleged use of nerve gas by U.S. troops in Vietnam-a report CNN was forced to retract.