There is no doubt that the scale of change at CNN in the past days has been immense. But there's a lot of doubt as to whether or not Jeff Zucker's new strategy help the network compete regularly again with Fox News and MSNBC.
By May, CNN will look like a very different place. It will have a new afternoon show with Jake Tapper and a new morning show with Chris Cuomo. It will either feature Soledad O'Brien in a new, unspecified role, or it will not feature her at all. It will, potentially, have Erin Burnett in the mornings. It will have a sports show. It will have new weekend shows with Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock. It will, if the New York Post is to be believed, have a new 10 PM show, since the paper wrote Wednesday that Anderson Cooper "learned his show will no longer be repeated in prime time." It will have been without some of its longest-running pundits. It will also be without its current managing editor.
So far, most of the daytime hours -- which feature people like Ashleigh Banfield, Carol Costello and Brooke Baldwin -- are not being publicly tinkered with. Piers Morgan and Wolf Blitzer have been kept in place -- though frequent viewers of "The Situation Room" will have noticed Kate Bolduan's regular presence alongside Blitzer in recent months. Everyone else, though, will have to deal with upheaval.
The question, of course, is whether any of it will make a difference -- whether CNN's problems stem from its personalities or whether they are more stubborn and structural. The network is partly trying to work an end-run around the trickiest issue -- whether straight news can ever compete realistically with opinion on a day-to-day basis anymore-- by adding non-news shows like Bourdain's and Spurlock's, or by bringing sports into the mix. (Even so, nothing new is really new -- CNN had a sports show for 20 years.) Cuomo's new show is likely to be less heavily focused on the meaty, contentious back-and-forths O'Brien has become known for.
But CNN is potentially caught in a bind. As TVNewser's Alex Weprin pointed out on Tuesday, the morning show will launch in a very tough landscape:
With "Today" and "Good Morning America" firmly entrenched as the soft news/entertainment leaders, CBS as the newsy alternative, "Morning Joe" as the insidery political show and "Fox & Friends" as the right-leaning populist option, there does not seem to be much wiggle room for CNN.
Tapper's hiring was broadly seen as an excellent move by Zucker, but he, too, will have to face the same problems as everyone else on CNN: is it possible to draw viewers in with more "hard-hitting," dynamic interviews? O'Brien's gained widespread attention, but not widespread audiences, with this approach.
In the long run, CNN may reach a point where it has to throw up its hands and accept lower ratings as a price of its non-partisan outlook. The media world is watching to see whether or not this latest overhaul will help it avoid that fate.