The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

CNN shakes up morning show — leaving a major vacancy in prime time

Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins will host the revamped morning show, which has trailed its cable-news peers in ratings

Don Lemon, seen here in New Hampshire in February 2020, will move from his prime-time spot to host a revamped CNN morning show. (Edward M. Pio Roda/CNN)

CNN’s morning show is undergoing a major shake-up — one that leaves another conspicuous gap in its prime-time block.

Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins will host a new morning program, the cable network announced Thursday. It’s one of the biggest moves by new CNN boss Chris Licht since he assumed the role earlier this year.

“This is not an incremental change. Our morning news program will debut with a new name, new set, and a totally new format,” Licht wrote in a note to staff. “The show will lean into the strength of CNN’s global brand, and I am confident America will soon see how genuine the chemistry is among these three remarkable anchors.”

The shake-up means there will be another open slot in the network’s high-profile prime-time hours. Lemon has been hosting the 10 p.m. hour since 2014, and his program, “Don Lemon Tonight,” will go off the air once he makes the transition.

Meanwhile, CNN hasn’t yet determined what to do with its 9 p.m. hour since Chris Cuomo was fired in December. Licht promised that details on when the new morning format will debut and plans for the network’s 9 p.m. to midnight hours “will be shared in the weeks ahead.”

Harlow has most recently anchored “CNN Newsroom” from 9 to 11 a.m., while Collins has served as CNN’s chief White House correspondent. “New Day’s” current hosts, John Berman and Brianna Keilar, will take on new roles at the network that will be announced later this year, Licht wrote.

Morning shows represent valuable airtime, particularly for the top broadcast networks, in large part because of the lucrative advertising real estate they offer.

CNN’s “New Day” regularly ranks in last place in ratings against competitors on Fox News and MSNBC. It ranked third in key Nielsen categories, behind “Fox & Friends” and “Morning Joe,” during the second quarter of 2022.

Licht — who had previously promised a “reimagining” of the morning show format — came to CNN from CBS, where he helped launch “CBS Mornings.” Before that, he co-created and served as the original executive producer of the well-rated “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.

He also joined the network during a particularly tumultuous time, replacing President Jeff Zucker who resigned in February, citing an undisclosed romantic relationship with a longtime colleague. Months later, Discovery Inc. completed its acquisition of CNN parent company WarnerMedia, and the newly formed entity, Warner Bros. Discovery, abruptly shut down the new streaming service CNN Plus after months of planning and $100 million of investment.

But there have been questions about the editorial direction of the network with all of the changes, particularly after a prominent Discovery shareholder said last year that he “would like to see CNN evolve back to the journalism it started with.”

When Licht joined, he was expected to move CNN into a less opinionated, and more hard-news driven, direction, after years of Donald Trump as president, during which Zucker allowed CNN’s on-air personalities to express more emotion.

Last month, CNN canceled “Reliable Sources,” a 30-year-old weekly show that explored the role of media in society. Its host, Brian Stelter, departed the network after a nine-year run.

Weeks later, CNN suddenly parted ways with White House correspondent John Harwood, who regularly provided political analysis on air. The move was perceived by several network insiders as part of a strategy to shift CNN’s tone into more politically neutral territory.

Jeremy Barr contributed to this report.