CNN’s primetime special with first lady Jill Biden tanked on Monday night as the network continues to struggle to attract viewers.
Ratings-challenged CNN has been without a permanent 9 p.m. ET host for over a year since Chris Cuomo was fired in late 2021. While Jake Tapper and others have found it difficult to attract an audience during the critical primetime hour, the first lady struggled as much as anyone.
The “CNN Primetime” special, branded “Jill Biden Abroad,” featured an interview with CNN White House correspondent Arlette Saenz that shed a staggering 43% of viewers of CNN’s average 2023 9 p.m. ET viewership.
“Jill Biden Abroad” averaged a dismal 368,000 total viewers compared to 2.7 million for Fox News’ “Hannity” and 2.3 million for MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” which both aired in the same time slot. It was CNN’s worst weekday performance at 9 p.m. since June 17, 2022, with the exception of Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
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TBS’ midday repeats of “Friends,” Investigation Discovery’s “Murder Comes Home,” “Andy Griffith Show” and “Gunsmoke” reruns on TV Land Classic, Hallmark’s decades-old airings of “The Golden Girls” and Lifetime’s “Castle” were among Monday’s basic cable offerings to outdraw CNN’s 9 p.m. ET program.
CNN’s “Jill Biden Abroad” didn’t perform much better among the advertiser-coveted demographic of adults age 25-54, averaging only 84,000 viewers among the key category to lose 42% of the network’s 2023 year-to-date average 9 p.m. viewership. On the same evening, “Hannity” averaged 322,000 demo viewers and “Maddow” managed 219,000.
CNN recently finished February with historically low viewership, concluding the news-heavy month with its smallest audience among the demo since 2012. It was CNN’s worst primetime performance in the category since 2013.
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CNN has had a gaping hole in primetime since Cuomo was fired, and various specials, more Anderson Cooper and a short-lived Jim Acosta experiment have failed to fill the void. CNN tapped Tapper to fill the 9 p.m. slot on a temporary basis in the final weeks leading up to the November midterms.
The tiny audience that stumbled upon the first lady’s sit-down with Saenz got to hear her profess love for her stepson Hunter Biden.
“I love Hunter, and I’ll support him in any way I can and that’s how I look at things,” Biden said when asked about the president’s son being a target for Republicans amid a wave of investigations.
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The CNN reporter then asked the first lady about the pending investigation’s impact on her husband’s potential re-election campaign: “Has the wave of investigations into him, does that factor into any of the thinking heading into 2024?”
Biden simply replied, “No.”
Fox News’ Gabriel Hays and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.