A year after CNN hired her to be the centerpiece of a star-driven primetime lineup, Connie Chung is leaving the network, which has canceled her 10-month-old show. According to the New York Times, ”Connie Chung Tonight,” which had been pre-empted by war coverage since last week, will not return, and when CNN informed her of that decision yesterday, it offered her other duties, but she declined and resigned.
The 56-year-old anchor, hired away from ABC last year, boosted ratings in her 8 p.m. ET timeslot by more than 50 percent, to more than a million viewers per night. Still, it struggled against Fox News Channel’s ”The O’Reilly Factor” (as did MSNBC’s Phil Donahue show, canceled a few weeks ago). Critics and CNN insiders, including Ted Turner, found her show lightweight, with Turner telling a newspaper last year the show was ”just awful.” (This week, in an interview, he said he regretted making that comment.) A Chung associate told the Times that she was a casualty of the new management; Walter Isaacson, who hired Chung, resigned in January, to be replaced by Jim Walton. The network has not said what will fill the 8 p.m. slot when the war is over.
News of Chung’s departure came the same day as Nielsen results showing that CNN’s war coverage, which put the network on the map 12 years ago, is also averaging fewer viewers than FNC’s war coverage. According to Nielsen, Fox drew an average of 5.58 million primetime viewers last week, to 4.37 million for CNN. Still, ratings for all three major cable news outlets are way up. Fox and CNN have seen gains of about 400 percent from this time last year, while MSNBC (the only cable news network whose correspondents, led by Gulf War I star Peter Arnett, haven’t been thrown out of Baghdad), is up 651 percent, to 2.15 million.