Don Lemon’s abrupt departure from CNN marks another lineup change for the morning show — a disturbingly familiar scenario in cable news.
Lemon was fired from the network on April 24 (after anchoring that day). CNN this morning), writing on Twitter that “I am baffled. … I never received any indication that I wouldn’t be able to continue doing the work I loved at the network. CNN said in a statement that Lemon was “offered a chance to meet with management, but instead posted a statement on Twitter.”
Lemon’s tenure as co-anchor of CNN this morning lasted less than six months; there’s no word yet on who, if anyone, will join fellow anchors Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow for now. But the show’s return, which debuted in November 2022 as CNN’s latest attempt at fixing its morning offerings, hasn’t been great.
For the first quarter of the year CNN this morning averaging just 359,000 viewers, well behind cable rivals Fox and friends (1.2 million) on Fox News and Good morning Joe (846,000) on MSNBC. The first few months on the air weren’t much better CNN this morning (along with the last weeks of predecessor New day) averaged 405,000 viewers and remained a distant third among cable news morning shows.
It’s not just morning either. CNN’s primetime trailed Fox News and MSNBC in total viewership in the first quarter, both in total viewership and in the key news demographic of adults 25-54. Anderson Cooper 360 took second place in the demo at 8 p.m., but CNN prime time And CNN tonight came third in both sizes. CNN CEO Chris Licht unveiled a new weekly primetime show on April 22, King Charleshosted by Gayle King and Charles Barkley, in hopes of drawing more viewers to the network in the evening.
In a brief memo to staff announcing Lemon’s departure, Licht wrote: “CNN this morning has been on the air for almost six months now and we are committed to its success.”
On Tuesday’s show, Collins and Harlow had kind words for Lemon and wished him well, echoing a statement in Licht’s memo. “Don has been a huge part of this show for the past six months. He was one of the first anchors on CNN to have me on his show,” Collins said. “That is something I will never forget, of course. I agree with Chris. We wish him the best.”
The announcement of CNN this morning was Licht’s first big programming move, when he took Lemon out of primetime and teamed him up with Collins and Harlow. The big swing didn’t make much of a difference in the ratings, though it made headlines in a negative way due to reports that Lemon clashed off-air with Collins and after he said Republican presidential nominee Nikki Haley “isn’t in her prime.” Lemon apologized for the latter comment and was absent for a few days during what Licht called “formal training.” (Haley is now using Lemon’s firing to raise money for her campaign, by the way.)
CNN’s morning real estate has been marked by turnover over the past two decades, with Lemon’s departure the latest in a long line of upheavals big and small. Launched the network American morning in 2001 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and although the program ran for 10 years, it cycled through more than a dozen anchors in that time. Starting point followed and only lasted about 17 months. New daywhich debuted in 2013 was arguably the most stable of the bunch, with Alisyn Camerota and Chris Coumo anchoring together for five years and Camerota staying with John Berman after Cuomo began his primetime show on CNN.
If New day marked in the ratings, however, Licht chose to wrap up the show and replace it with CNN this morning. Less than six months after its debut, the show now faces retooling following Lemon’s impeachment.