The Gutfeld Effect: CNN looks to copy Fox News’ successful late-night formula, floats names

Having yet to take a hard look in the mirror and admit to their viewers “it’s not you, it’s me,” CNN’s head honcho is reportedly considering another programming change that could see their primetime lineup feature some big names in comedy in a move that might best be described as “The Gutfeld Effect.”

Since taking the reins of the international cable news network, CNN’s chairman and CEO Christ Licht has made some long overdue moves in an effort, supposedly, to get away from the partisan reporting previously fueled by Trump Derangement Syndrome. Now, as the network’s 9 and 10 p.m. slots routinely fail to clear even a quarter of the viewership that Fox News gets for their 11 p.m. show “Gutfeld!” it would appear Greg Gutfeld’s popular acerbic wit and ratings success is being drawn on for inspiration.

Sunday, Max Tani of Semafor reported on the possible move toward light-hearted coverage of the news and wrote, “CNN executives have floated names including Bill Maher, Trevor Noah, Arsenio Hall, and Jon Stewart, and have looked at other comedic news-focused talk shows for inspiration.”

“Executives have also discussed turning the 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. hours into a series of shows modeled like a variety program,” Tani wrote, “with ‘shows within shows’ for different journalists, one network executive told Semafor.”

While Maher could be a likely contender, as CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery also owns HBO and Matt Belloni of Puck News reported discussions are already underway to begin airing segments from “Real Time with Bill Maher” on the news network, his weekly program has been clocked in at roughly half the viewership to that of Gutfeld’s nightly powerhouse.

Other names bandied about included Daily Show alums like Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert whom Licht had worked with directly for six years as executive producer of  “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” which, Tani noted, “made him comfortable with producing a non-traditional late night show with some news elements.”

The Semafor report also talked down Gutfeld’s dominant draw, which included his co-hosting during the 5 p.m. slot on Fox News as a member of “The Five,” the number one cable news program, and suggested, “Fox has found success with Gutfeld!, a conservative alternative to late night TV shows dominated by liberal hosts that tries very hard to be funny and regularly beats its traditional late night competitors.”

Subjective opinions on Gutfeld’s humor aside, Colbert’s show is the nearest competitor having come closest to topping “Gutfeld!” with viewers. However, the Fox News talent doesn’t have the benefit of holdovers from sitcoms and dramas that air before those closest competitors that dramatically lag behind with Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon each seeing about 75 percent of Gutfeld’s draw while James Corden and Seth Meyers, whom executives have considered moving to MSNBC, float around 40 percent of the conservative humorist.

Media critic Erik Wemple suggested in a December piece for The Washington Post that there is also danger in Licht’s potential formatting gamble as, “Such an experiment could also deliver a programming disaster. Consider a scenario in which said entertainer was on air at the moment that an overseas war broke out, or an earthquake struck, or some statesperson died. Watching the network scramble to switch back into hard-news mode–well, that would surely be entertaining.”

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Kevin Haggerty

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