My Plan to Save CNN

Ratings are plummeting, viewers are falling asleep, and Larry King doesn't seem to know where he is. Fortunately, I've got an idea that could rescue them

With CNN’s prime-time ratings going down the crapper, there is only one way for the network to survive.

CNN must stop being CNN.

In the first three months of 2010, Campbell Brown, Larry “Where Am I?” King and Anderson Cooper lost almost half their viewers, compared to the same period last year.

No surprise there. Brown is vanilla. King, when he can stay awake, asks dumber questions than a kindergartner. Cooper has a killer bod and a real personality, but he only shows them on other networks.

What gives?

Quite simply, the pioneer of all-news cable networks has outlived its usefulness. [SIGNUP]

When Ted Turner launched his radical enterprise in 1980, the web, Twitter and Facebook were not dominant news sources. In those days, if you wanted “instant” updates, day or night, you turned to CNN.

How quaint. Now, of course, news’ electronic shelf life is measured in nano-seconds. By 8 p.m., viewers have no interest in a product that has expired by mid-morning. Straight-ahead, impartial news is an epic fail.

In an increasingly polarized culture, research shows that viewers want hosts/networks that reflect their political points of view. The more extreme, the better, if for entertainment value alone.

Though Fox News and MSNBC deny they are ideologically driven, an idiot can see that the former skews conservative and the latter liberal.

That leaves the non-partisan middle lane, which CNN has proudly occupied since its beginning. What used to be a badge of honor, however, has become a death knell.

In prime time, viewers don’t want politically agnostic anymore. They want undisguised bias, with sizzle, frizzle and fry.

Fox’s Murderers Row of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren has ruled the Nielsens for years. Once Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow let their freak flags fly, MSNBC stopped wandering in the wilderness.

For CNN to stop the bleeding, it must drop its cloak of impartiality and be conservative and liberal, in equal measure.

In practical terms, have Brown, King and Cooper go passionately Red State for the first half hour, Blue State for the second – assuming King can tell the difference. That way, CNN can please everybody.

Weirder things have happened in television. And if this plan doesn’t work, at least it will make CNN more fun to watch. At this point, that’s not hard to do.

GAIL SHISTER, TV columnist for the Inquirer for 25 years, teaches writing at Penn and is a columnist for She writes for The Philly Post on Tuesdays.