With the military stage of the Iraqi war reduced to mop-up activities, cable news channels are returning to prewar lineups, which includes scheduling reruns of their talk programs instead of offering continuous, 24-hour live coverage.
Beginning Thursday, the Fox News Channel reinstated repeat telecasts of talk programs such as "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Hannity & Colmes" at 8 and 9 p.m., respectively, for the Pacific time zone. Although the programs rejoined the schedule a few weeks ago, until now they had been seen only in their East Coast prime-time slots, or locally at 5 and 6 p.m., respectively.
CNN has already done the same with "Larry King Live," and MSNBC implemented a more conventional lineup Thursday as well, with multiple nightly telecasts of "Hardball," Keith Olbermann's new show and "Scarborough Country."
All three cable news networks had provided live coverage since the war began March 19. The decision to reintroduce reruns relieves some of the cost associated with 24-hour reporting as well as the pressure on their staffs, which had been stretched during the war.
Bill Shine, Fox News' executive producer, said the determining factor was a relative dearth of news from Iraq in recent days. "It was an editorial decision, not a human resources decision," he said. "To be frank, the war was coming to an end."
Despite remaining far ahead of prewar levels, ratings for cable news have gradually diminished as the war progressed and U.S. forces completed their march to Baghdad. Fox News, meanwhile, has done the best in retaining audience and has widened its lead over competitors -- more than doubling CNN's prime-time audience Wednesday.
Elizabeth Molo, a loyal "O'Reilly Factor" viewer who lives in Glendale, is pleased that the show will be back on at an hour when she can see it. "I hadn't realized how much the show had become part of my day," she said.