News Biz Aims to Pay It Forward

2013 will be shaped by capitalizing on, or squandering, 2012 developments

From Good Morning America’s historic ratings win to Ann Curry’s tearful onair goodbye to the Today show and the guessing game of who would succeed Jim Walton at the helm of CNN, the news business saw no shortage of 2012 headlines that will have ripple effects into 2013.

A.M. Wake-Up Call

It only took ABC’s Good Morning America about four months to solidify its first-place spot in the morning-show ratings, but it’s going to take NBC’s Today much longer to get it back.

NBC has work to do to bring back viewers disenfranchised by the ouster of Curry. Newly promoted Today executive producer Don Nash said viewers should expect to see some cosmetic changes to the show in 2013, as well as more opportunities for the anchors to show off their personalities and interact with each other, a formula that has worked well for the GMA team.

But morning TV is all about habits, and habits are hard to change. With Today seemingly done making anchor changes and GMA expecting to return a recovered Robin Roberts in mid- 2013, it’s unlikely the morning show pecking order will look any different in six months.

The Zucker-ization of CNN

Though Jeff Zucker’s appointment to president of CNN Worldwide has been mostly praised by industry insiders, given his track record as a wunderkind producer at Today, all concede that turning around the network is a tall order for any executive, and one that will take years.

While CNN’s problems are well known—primetime ratings at a 20-year low, a moribund morning show and a general lack of direction—Zucker’s challenge will be building a core pocket of fans without radically changing CNN’s journalistic brand.

For that, Zucker said, CNN needs to “broaden the definition of what news is.” It will experiment with that via shows from Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock in 2013, though no one expects the channel to go to all reality programming. The most obvious first priorities would seem to be a new host to replace Anderson Cooper at 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. (Ann Curry is the juiciest rumored candidate) and—given Zucker’s track record in morning TV—Starting Point at 7 a.m.

A Non-Election Year

The presidential campaign drove both Fox News and MSNBC to record ratings, and while neither network should be worried about losing its core viewership in the absence of an election, the bigger issue will be which benefits more from a second Obama term.

The early bet seems to be MSNBC, whose Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell have consistently beaten FNC’s Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren in the adults 25-54 demo since the election—a major win for MSNBC if it holds through 2013.

CBS News also benefitted from the election year, with the newly hour-long Face the Nation now topping NBC’s longtime leader, Meet the Press, though Face is still only rated on its first half-hour. Once the hour receives full clearance on CBS stations after basketball season ends this spring, Face and MTP will vie for dominance on a more level playing field.

Be Right, Not First

Last year saw several high-profile screw-ups in TV news coverage. CNN and Fox News initially misreported the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act; ABC News incorrectly linked Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes to the Tea Party; and myriad reporters across the board made mistakes in early Newtown, Conn., shooting reports. Such missteps can hurt the credibility of all news organizations, even networks not directly involved.

Perhaps the best visualization of the desire to “get it right”—and maintain credibility with viewers—was Fox News’ Megyn Kelly taking her famous walk to the decision desk on Election Night at the behest of Karl Rove. Rove’s motivations aside, TV news will need to be more conscious of getting it right, not first, in 2013.

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito