Campbell Brown Jumps Ship From Sinking CNN -- Enter Katie Couric?

Campbell Brown Deserts Sinking CNN
Campbell Brown Deserts Sinking CNN

CNN (TWX) had better speed up those alleged merger talks with CBS (CBS), or it might not have anyone left to bring to the union. Campbell Brown, whose 8 p.m. show has languished at the bottom of the ratings heap for all of its brief lifespan, has resigned from the network, saying she didn't see a path to success there. "[S]imply put, the ratings for my program are not where I would like them to be," Brown said in a statement to Mediaite, which broke the news, and to other outlets.

Brown's exit follows that of Lou Dobbs, who left last November and has been out of television since. Like Brown, he had to convince CNN to let him out of his contract early. Unlike Brown, he was motivated by a clash of sensibilities: In his final years, he had pushed ever deeper into opinion-driven, personality-heavy broadcasting, even as CNN remained doggedly committed to being "the sole nonpartisan cable network," in the words of its president, Jon Klein.

Opinion and personality were what Brown had to contend with at 8 p.m., in the form of Bill O'Reilly on Fox News (NWS), Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, and Nancy Grace, whose show airs on HLN, CNN's sister network. Sticking to a straight-news format won Brown some plaudits early on, but it also doomed her to a consistent last-place finish. So far this year, Campbell Brown has attracted fewer than one-fifth as many viewers as The O'Reilly Factor, which averages more than 3 million.

You can't blame Brown for choosing to stop fighting a losing battle, but her departure is yet another embarrassment for CNN, which has already taken a mighty beating this year for its apocalyptic first-quarter ratings performance. It's distressingly hard to imagine what the network could possibly do in the 8 p.m. hour that would move the needle more than marginally.

If there's a deus ex machina here, it's the looming potential partnership with CBS. If that comes to fruition, it could result in Katie Couric taking over for Larry King at 9 p.m. With her knack for news-making interviews, Couric could restore some excitement to CNN without violating its nonpartisan ethos. Katie Couric Live could be the nucleus of a new identity for CNN -- something the network needs badly.