CNN executives announced on Wednesday a new prime-time block, "Headline Prime," featuring two popular entertainment news shows the network plans to introduce.
"Showbiz Tonight," an hourlong mix of entertainment news, trends and "buzz" hosted by A.J. Hammer and Karyn Bryant, will air weeknights on CNN Headline News at 4 (live) and 7 p.m. (repeated) Pacific time, starting Feb. 21.
Also launching that day will be "Nancy Grace," an hourlong talk show hosted by Grace, the lively legal analyst who has covered trials daily on Court TV. (She will continue to anchor Court TV's "Closing Arguments" weekdays.) The new show will air on CNN Headline News at 5 and 8 p.m. Pacific time.
Jim Walton, president of CNN News Group, Jonathan Klein, U.S. news operations president, and Ken Jautz, executive vice president, made the announcement during Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s presentation at the Television Critics Assn. biannual press tour in Universal City.
The new shows represent an attempt to boost Headline News, the smaller of the cable network's two channels, which had been losing viewers as it moved into the evening hours, executives said.
CNN has been facing tough competition from No. 1-ranked Fox News Channel, which dominates on the ratings front.
Rather than competing against Fox, MSNBC and CNN's own evening news shows, the new Headline News programming is intended to broaden CNN's total market for advertisers, according to executives.
CNN spokesman Matt Furman said the network is "trying to attract as many viewers as it can without [compromising] the CNN promise," which he said referred to covering news honestly and fairly.
Executives pointed to the Internet's almost instantaneous transmission of information as one reason for the ratings slide that Headline News has experienced. "This is purely an offensive play for us," said Jautz.
In discussing the new strategy, Walton said he had no problem with one of CNN's networks programming against the other: "We're an international business, a Web business, a radio business and a television business. As we start to grow Headline News, we're looking at the two networks as one network, and so we'll counter-program against ourselves. If Headline News has on a legal show, CNN will have on more news."
Klein said: "CNN in prime time is going to be about arresting programming that takes you beyond the headlines with powerful personalities and big ideas in an extremely engaging way. We're going to stake our claim in prime time in different ways."
CNN also hopes to increase synergistic opportunities with other companies under the Time Warner umbrella. Sister enterprise People magazine, for instance, could contribute information to "Showbiz Tonight," executives said.
As to whether the emphasis on celebrity-driven journalism would dilute the CNN hard news brand, Jautz said: "We will cover [celebrity] news in a journalistic manner. We will not enter into any deals" with publicists.
Asked about the recent ethics scandal at CBS News, Walton said, "You think 'There but for the grace of God go I.' One of the things we all need to consider is ... public trust in journalism is at an all-time low.
"It's incumbent upon all of us to stick to the fundamentals of journalism. I just hope collectively in our profession we can button it up a little bit."