Joy Behar joins surging HLN network

HLN (formerly Headline News Network) is on a tear, posting more than 40 percent gains in May for both total viewers and in adults 25 to 54, the key demographic targeted by TV news programs.

Today, the sister network of Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) CNN announced the hiring of Joy Behar from "The View" to host a one-hour show in prime time. The comic, who is also a substitute host for CNN's Larry King, admits that she is perfect for cable news because "I just can't keep my mouth shut."
The same could be said for the current ratings star of the network, Nancy Grace. Record numbers of viewers tuned in the folksy former prosecutor in May, helped by the story of Caylee Anthony, the young Florida girl suspected of being murdered by her mother. The network also posted its best 8 pm hour and 11 pm hours in its 27-year history, according to TVNewser.

HLN's ratings soared 62 percent in the first quarter of 2009 while CNN's ratings dropped 10 percent, putting them behind News Corp.'s Fox News Channel and MSNBC, which is owned by General Electric Co. (GE), both of which showed double-digit ratings gains.

The hiring of Behar, the last original member of "The View" panel aside from creator Barbara Walters, is not without risk. People either love her or hate her. In 2006, she sent the right wing media into a lather when she likened then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to Hitler. She called John Edwards a "dog" after it was revealed that he cheated on his cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth.

Behar's program, which replaces a repeat of "Lou Dobbs Tonight," goes head-to-head against Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, in the 9 pm slot. Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show," has seen her viewership fall dramatically since the election. On May 15, the program hit an all-time low of viewership, according to The Huffington Post.

Whether the public will be able to tolerate Behar on two programs -- she will continue to work on "The View" -- remains to be seen. Cable TV is filled with the corpse of failed talk shows by everyone from adman Donny Deutsch to editor Tina Brown to tennis legend John McEnroe.

Talking is easy. Being entertaining is difficult.
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