CNN is pulling the plug on its 6 p.m. news program “John King, USA,” with the show’s host becoming the network’s national campaign correspondent.
According to an internal memo circulated Wednesday and obtained by POLITICO, Wolf Blitzer’s “Situation Room” will be expanded to a three-hour program, and begin airing from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. starting next month. King is expected to contribute to this program, as well as others, including “AC360” hosted by Anderson Cooper.
The move was described as part of a bigger aim to “bolster” CNN’s political coverage heading into an important stretch of the 2012 campaign. “John King, USA” has consistently come in third in cable-news ratings for the 6 p.m. slot, trailing Fox News’s “Special Report with Bret Baier” and MSNBC’s “Politics Nation,” respectively.
John King currently holds the title of chief national correspondent. King made his mark on the 2012 cycle by moderating CNN’s first Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, followed by two others in South Carolina and Arizona.
In one of the most memorable debate moments of 2012, King was attacked by then-candidate Newt Gingrich during a January debate in Charleston, S.C. King had kicked off the event by asking the former House speaker about his ex-wife’s accusation that Gingrich had wanted an open marriage. Gingrich shot back, “I’m appalled you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”
The network, which has been devastated with a historically low viewership in recent months, also announced other personnel decisions as part of its move to expand its coverage in Washington. Joe Johns has been assigned a new role as CNN crime and justice correspondent, while senior producer Suzanne Kelly will take on her new assignment of intelligence correspondent.
Last month, CNN had its worst monthly prime-time ratings in over 20 years. The network averaged 389,000 prime-time viewers between April 30 and May 27 — a 51 percent drop from May of last year.
Two of the network’s evening hosts — Piers Morgan and Erin Burnett — had failed to meet expectations, with Morgan showcasing the worst ratings for his time slot in two decades, while Burnett delivered the worst ratings for the 25-54 demo in 20 years.
Before anchoring “John King, USA,” King hosted “State of the Union with John King,” a four-hour Sunday news program. He came to CNN in 1997 as a White House correspondent, and rose to become the network’s chief national correspondent in 2005.
It was reported in March that King and CNN’s Hill correspondent, Dana Bash, were separating after less than four years of marriage.
The full memo from CNN/U.S. executive vice president Ken Jautz to staff is below:
“I wanted to inform you of a change we are making to bolster our political coverage heading into the critical stretch of the 2012 campaign. Beginning next month, John King will shift roles and become our lead national campaign correspondent. As a result, Situation Room will air from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and John will be providing reports for SitRoom, AC360 and other programs and CNN platforms. This is John’s seventh presidential campaign, fourth with CNN, and making him available across our programming lineup allows us to better tap his skills and experience, especially on the ground reporting in major battleground states and among critical voting blocs.
“Additionally, we are expanding our news coverage in Washington. With landmark decisions on the horizon, I’m very pleased to announce that Joe Johns will be taking on a new role as the CNN Crime and Justice Correspondent, covering the Supreme Court and the criminal justice system. Joe, who holds a law degree, has received national recognition for his crime and law enforcement reporting in DC. We are also expanding our coverage of national security and we will be adding a new correspondent to the Washington Bureau. Senior Producer Suzanne Kelly will become CNN’s Intelligence Correspondent covering national security and the intelligence community. Suzanne is an acclaimed author who published a detailed account of Blackwater’s role in the Iraq War.
“These changes will help us provide groundbreaking reporting and more depth of coverage of the important issues facing our viewers. As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
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