Can “King Charles” rule the competitive world of cable news? CNN will find out soon.
The new weekly one-hour program will debut on Wednesday, November 29, at 10 p.m., and will be co-hosted by the unlikely duo of Gayle King, still in her longtime day job at rival CBS News, and Charles Barkley. The outspoken sportscaster who remains a staple of Warner Bros.’ NBA coverage. Discovery, the parent company of CNN. CNN executives rely on the pair to have free-wheeling conversations about the biggest stories in the news cycle. “King Charles” is envisioned as a limited-run series that will run through at least the first quarter of next year.
“King Charles is different from anything else we have in the CNN lineup,” says Amy Entles, CNN’s executive vice president of talent and content development, in response to emailed questions. “It’s not a newscast, it’s a talk show centered around the news stories and cultural moments that Gayle and Charles care deeply about.” CNN declined to make the new executives or anchors available for a live conversation.
The success of news channels in the past was largely based on consistency. Viewers come to prime time knowing exactly when their favorite hosts will appear on the schedule. However, the launch of “King Charles” represents the latest effort by major news networks to change audience expectations at a time when viewership and ad revenue are under new scrutiny. To keep “King Charles” on Wednesdays at 10 p.m., CNN would have to preempt a program that had recently debuted at the time, “CNN NewsNight With Abby Phillip.” MSNBC these days features a Monday night lineup that includes Rachel Maddow and Jen Psaki, neither of whom anchor programming on other weekend nights. MSNBC also often relies on Maddow and a team of favorite anchors and analysts to take over the prime-time schedule when bigger news stories break.
Even Fox News, which has kept Bill O’Reilly at 8 p.m. for more than two decades, has begun experimenting with new concepts. A few nights each week, veteran host Sean Hannity would present his show in front of a live in-studio audience — and encourage the audience to get rowdy before the cameras roll. Indeed, Fox News’ coverage of events related to the war between Israel and Hamas has prompted recent preemptions of prime-time opinion programming through breaking news. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum co-anchor coverage of President Biden’s speech regarding the situation in Israel during the final 8 p.m. hour, usually reserved for conservative host Jesse Watters.
News channel giants are testing new programming concepts as their audiences shift toward streaming video on demand, and advertisers who once felt comfortable with their formats are pulling back for fear of being called upon to patronize one stubborn host or another. CNN has seen its audience decline significantly in recent months in the wake of the 2020 election and a wave of scheduling and programming moves under the previous administration. CNN said its total prime-time audience rose 5% in the third quarter, although audiences for those programs generally lag behind those of its main competitors.
However, networks see new opportunities. The run-up to a presidential election usually attracts new audiences and larger crowds to its screens. Many of them have launched their own new streaming venues. “King Charles” is also available on Max’s flagship streaming home, Warner Bros. Discovery.
The promo for the new show tells viewers that “two broadcast giants are coming to CNN,” and includes footage of King and Barkley on set and talking to insiders like John King and Audie Cornish. “This is our unfiltered view on the biggest stories of the day,” King says, while Barkley tells his co-anchor in a sideline: “We’re tired of the BS!”
“King Charles” will be executive produced by Nick Tuths, and developed by executives including Ryan Kadro, senior vice president of content strategy. Titas Valodun will serve as senior producer. Keira Cleveland and Isabella Rivera will serve as producers, and Sidney Walton will serve as associate producer. Preet Khan is a senior talent executive.
The show will feature “a mix of in-studio and remote guests with an emphasis on important, serious and often funny conversations,” says Entelis, who adds: “You’ll feel like you’re spending time with friends.” The show originated during the tenure of former CNN CEO Chris Licht, who placed some emphasis on finding unconventional characters to add perspective and color to the network’s programming. Bill Maher, the comedian who leads a show on Warner’s HBO, has provided some content for CNN for some time. Gayle King was founding anchor of “CBS This Morning” when Licht was the show’s executive producer.
King and Barkley have other duties — the 2024 election, NBA playoffs — that might not allow them to devote more time to such a program, hence the short term it is expected to have. CNN will move the December 6 broadcast of “King Charles” to 9 p.m. to accommodate coverage of the Republican primary debate that evening. “We expect ‘King Charles’ to be a regular flagship program on Wednesday evenings, but as with all our programmes, we will make room for breaking news as it happens,” says Entelis.
If the show is a hit, could CNN find more space for it? “King Charles is debuting as a limited series, and we are open to doing more shows like this in the future,” says Entelis.
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