Jeff Zucker has said that he’d consider CNN’s new morning show New Day a success if it beat the news network’s previous AM offerings in the ratings. That’s setting the bar pretty low for New Day which debuts at 6 AM ET on June 17 with recent ABC News transplant Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan as hosts, former KTLA morning show anchor Michaela Pereira as the news anchor and former Good Morning America chief Jim Murphy as Senior Executive Producer. Year to date Early Start and Starting Point averaged 308,000 total viewers and 123,000 in the Adults 25-54 demo from 6 AM to 9 AM for CNN. While up from last year, those numbers are still behind their cable rivals’ AM shows and way behind what the Big 3 networks pull in on their morning shows. On cable news, MSNBC’s Morning Joe has had 400,000 viewers and 139,000 among 25-54s YTD and Fox News Channel’s long time top spot Fox And Friends has averaged 1.141 million viewers and 274,000.
While CNN’s ratings have been up in recent months after hitting lows last year, the network’s track record of debuts hasn’t been so good since Zucker took over in late January. Almost all of the new shows or experiments that CNN has attempted of late have premiered poorly with the exception of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – and that wasn’t a Zucker baby like New Day has been for the former Today boss who has said that CNN will more “broadly” define what news is. Deadline spoke with Bolduan and Cuomo as well as Murphy (who was at Anderson Cooper’s syndicated talk show until this January) recently about the expectations for the show, fighting Fox & Friends, how much Zucker’s was involved with the new show, CNN’s bump and the difference between cable and network news.
DEADLINE: From the time that Jeff Zucker took over at CNN he said that a morning show was a top priority, so how is New Day going to get CNN some traction in the morning?
MURPHY: It’s going get some traction by being a very good morning news program. Without giving away too much, I would say that what you should expect is a very busy, energetic, story filled and information filled, fast moving, interesting morning news program with a broad range of stories and topics and a lot of resources from CNN helping to lift it up and cover a lot of things.
DEADLINE: OK, but, Jim, Chris and Kate, are you guys going to beat Fox and Friends?
BOLDUAN: We’re not going into it with the goal of beating Fox & Friends. We’re going into it with the goal of making a news program that we are proud of and that we want to watch. And that’s our goal. And do we want to improve our ratings? Do we want people to watch our show? Absolutely. We wouldn’t be in the business if we didn’t. Is there a perfect formula that we can apply with a surefire win in the ratings game? No. If I had that recipe I could sell it for a lot of money. So we are going to, first and foremost, put on a strong news program, a show that we ourselves will be proud of and want to watch, and we’re also allowing ourselves flexibility to evolve the show. Day one is not going to look like day one hundred and one. And that’s where our focus will be. And we’re not going to be picking a partisan angle. That’s not what CNN does and this is a news program that will stick very firmly with the CNN brand of news.
DEADLINE: Zucker has also said that he would consider New Day a success if it got higher ratings than previous CNN morning shows. How will you rate New Day a success?
MURPHY: Well I think that’s a pretty legitimate standard because you always want to be judged against a predecessor because that just makes sense logically. I think that personal satisfaction here though really comes down to quality and authenticity. We want it to be very clear that we’re staying true to the brand, that this is a news show first, and bank on the fact that people care. People care about quality, they care about what matters and they care about the urgency and the authenticity of the people who are delivering them the news. And that is very important to me personally, that people know that we’re trying very hard, we take the news very seriously, we take their interests very seriously. And one of the reasons it’s important is that I believe that quality and authenticity translates into ratings success as well.
DEADLINE: Speaking of ratings, CNN has had a couple of really good months ratings-wise recently, especially up from the lows of last year. Why do you think there’s been an improvement?
MURPHY: Well, we’ve had a run of very big stories coupled with a very aggressive new attitude brought to the organization by Jeff and the organization really stepping up to the plate to show that they are in this business for real. I mean it is a great news organization and it’s had issues on and off over the years like every one of the network news divisions and every print company and most online firms as well. Everybody has their ups and downs. Right now the time is very good at CNN, a lot of new blood, great new leadership, and a commitment from the whole organization to really push things forward together.
DEADLINE: As a former morning show executive producer himself, how involved was Jeff Zucker in this show?
MURPHY: Jeff is involved in the way that the head of this giant company would be involved. He cares about it, we meet with him regularly about it. Jeff is not doing our rundown and supervising the rehearsals. He’s doing his job. He runs CNN. He’s involved with us deeply, because he and I, look, we were competitors in morning television twenty years ago, and we’ve been competitors in other fields. We work together now instead and we like working together on this project.
DEADLINE: Having joined in the past few months, how are you feeling being at CNN?
MURPHY: So far? Love it. I mean, this place has amazing resources, amazing talent, and huge, rich – I mean, as good as it is to have the network size audiences, you were limited in some of the things you could do at the networks because those organizations keep shrinking and shrinking. This one’s growing. And we can get to anything, any time, day or night, anywhere in the world. That’s really neat.
DEADLINE: Chris and Kate, along with Michaela, you’re faces of the show, you’re part of the new branding campaign, how are you feeling about New Day’s debut?
CUOMO: I’m really excited. I’m happy that since I’ve come to CNN the numbers haven’t tanked. That would’ve been bad. So on a selfish level I’m happy that the numbers have been up and I’ve been able to be part of the coverage that matters here. But I also feel lucky on a lot of levels. For me, everything about this has been so serendipitous. That Jeff Zucker wound up coming over here when he did, that I had an opportunity to consider what I wanted to do while at ABC news, that Jim Murphy was available, and that Kate was seen by the people in here as an obvious person for the job, and that I just so fell in love with her when we were together. She’s such a great person; she’s got so much dimension, and she brings out the best in me, whether we’re on camera or off.
DEADLINE: CNN has had a troubled history with morning shows. Do you feel you’re really are wiping the slate clean and reinventing the morning slot?
MURPHY: I wouldn’t call it reinvention because it would be like reinventing the wheel. What I would call it is taking it very seriously. We hired a lot of good talent. We have a superb anchor team. We have the resources of this company behind us. At times I’m not sure those resources were always there for the morning. At times they did have success in the morning and then they immediately peeled those people off the air and put them in prime time. You know, when cable news first came into being, the parts of the day they spent the most time worrying about were like prime time and midday because the networks did not do news in those day parts and so obviously that’s where you go first and really tackle it and try and build audiences. I think mornings came late to cable as a part of the day that they really needed to be strong in. I think it came last to CNN because CNN was so strong for so many years in all of those other parts. They were accomplishing their goals, and completing great missions and winning awards and growing and making tons of money. So I don’t think it was like a huge priority. The business has settled. Everyone needs to be competitive, morning noon and night now and CNN is taking a very serious stab at getting it right.
DEADLINE: Chris, what was the transition to CNN from being at ABC like for you?
CUOMO: It’s still going on. Big difference between network anchoring and cable anchoring, cable’s much harder. I know that now. It was a suspicion before but now it’s concrete backed. You’re on a lot longer. You have to learn to work with less in terms of information in the field because the story’s evolving. You don’t get to cherry pick your information as you do when you have more limited time.
DEADLINE: Jim, Kate said that show’s going to evolve. When do you think it’s going to find its final form?
MURPHY: I don’t think a great program is ever in its final form. I mean, you always want to change to be current with the times, to be on top of the zeitgeist, to have the right people on the air, to add team members when it feels right, I mean, the show should always be changing. I mean, you can settle into a format that works, but I don’t think you ever want a show to stay exactly the same. I think that’s true for all successful shows.