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Where's the Love? CNBC Scrambles to Woo Viewers for 'McEnroe'

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, August 13, 2004; Page C07

In tennis it's called "love."

In TV it's called "scratch."

On CNBC it's called "McEnroe."

CNBC says John McEnroe is exactly the kind of prime-time host its viewers have told the network they wanted. Somebody's lying. On Tuesday the show got 35,000 viewers -- its smallest audience yet. (CNBC)

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The cable network's new talk show, hosted by former-and-we're-talking-a-long-time-ago tennis great John McEnroe, keeps coming up scratch in the household ratings, as in a big fat 0.

Since its launch a little more than a month ago,"McE" has come up scratch on four occasions. This past Tuesday at 10 p.m., he did so with just 35,000 viewers -- his smallest audience yet and a pretty impressive number, but not in a good way, for a prime-time show on a basic cable network.

That may explain why Douglas Warshaw is no longer the executive in charge of production on the show, word of which first showed up on the Web site Mediabistro.com. But Bob Meyers, CNBC senior vice president of prime time, told The TV Column yesterday that the game plan all along was to take Warshaw, who was brought in six months ago, off "McE" after just one month on the air and give the suit the 8 p.m. time slot to develop programming.

Even if "McE" is tanking, apparently. Interesting strategy.

Meanwhile, Woody Fraser -- yes, the Woody Fraser whose credits include "The Mike Douglas Show, "The Dick Cavett Show" and early "Good Morning America" -- has been brought aboard to work on McE's show. More recently, Fraser was involved in producing CNBC's "Topic A" last weekend, when show host Tina Brown took a break and former presidential candidate Howard Dean temped.

Meyers told The TV Column that he's not too concerned about the ratings on "McE" because those numbers have to be put in perspective, that perspective being that the show launched in the dog days of summer.

Here's another perspective -- this summer compared with last summer:

Last year, during the same weeks that "McE" has been on the CNBC lineup, the network was averaging nearly 200,000 in the 10 p.m. slot with Brian Williams doing the news. One year later, McEnroe has fumbled more than 50 percent of those viewers.

McEnroe is also dropping more than 40 percent of his Dennis Miller lead-in, whereas same time last year, Williams's telecast was improving on its lead-in by nearly 70 percent.

Still, Meyers is standing by McEnroe because he says he's exactly the kind of prime-time host CNBC's daytime viewers have told the network they want.

Turns out that doesn't mean they want someone who was a brilliant if obnoxious star of a country club sport in the early 1980s when they were young and life seemed full of possibilities, long before they became investment bankers.

No, CNBC's daytime viewers just told the network, according to Meyers, that they want a show host who was bold, provocative, edgy, honest, straightforward, who tells it like it is, someone who is not a slick TV personality.

Now, if only they could teach McEnroe how to throw to a commercial break.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company