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CNN’s Kaitlan Collins moves to prime time after Trump interview

Fresh off of moderating a widely panned town hall with former President Trump, Kaitlan Collins is moving up to prime time at CNN.

The “CNN This Morning” co-host and former White House correspondent will take over the 9 p.m. Eastern hour for the cable news network on a full time basis starting this fall. She will be seen regularly in the time period starting next month ahead of the program’s debut, according to a note that CNN Chairman Chris Licht sent to staff on Wednesday.

The network announced the move at parent company Warner Bros. Discovery’s advertiser upfront presentation in New York.

Collins’ program will feature interviews with newsmakers and panel discussions covering two to three topics a night. Licht has stressed internally that the new entry will not be an opinion program, setting it apart from the competition on MSNBC and Fox News.

Collins, 31, left the White House beat to become a co-host of “CNN This Morning” in December alongside Poppy Harlow and Don Lemon. The morning show was the first major programming initiative under Licht.

Collins is now the second co-host to leave the show.

Lemon was fired for unspecified reasons on April 24. His dismissal came two months after making offensive comments on the program about when a woman is past her “prime” while speaking about 51-year-old Republican former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

“CNN This Morning” is frequently the least-watched program among the three major cable news channels. Harlow will be joined by fill-in hosts until a permanent replacement for Collins is named.

Collins’ profile got a major boost on May 10 when she moderated a town hall with Trump, marking his first live appearance on CNN since the 2016 presidential campaign. The event held at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire was watched by 3.3 million people, according to Nielsen data, making it a ratings success for CNN.

But the program drew harsh criticism as the audience of Republican and independent voters became a cheering squad for Trump, including when he disparaged E. Jean Carroll, the woman who was recently awarded $5 million after a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing her in 1994.

Collins tried to call out Trump as he repeated numerous false claims that his 2020 election loss was “rigged,” among other untrue statements. But critics said CNN should have known better than to give Trump, now a candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination, a forum where it would be impossible to filter out misinformation in real time.

Collins escaped much of the criticism as her peers on the network and in the community of Washington journalists believed she battled to push back on Trump. At one point, Trump called her “a nasty person.”

Licht also praised Collins’ performance, although the decision to give her a prime time hour was decided before the town hall, according to people familiar with the discussions but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

CNN has not seen any residual benefit from the ratings boost created by the town hall. On Friday evening, the network’s viewing levels tumbled below those of Newsmax, the conservative outlet that gets its best ratings from running Trump rallies.

Licht has said that part of his mission at CNN is to move the network to the political center and serve as an impartial purveyor of news. Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav has arugued that the network moved too far into anti-Trump advocacy under previous boss Jeff Zucker.

Republican presidential town hall with Donald Trump, moderated by Kaitlan Collins.

(John Nowak)

Licht, who joined CNN in April 2022, has attempted to make the network friendlier territory for Republican politicians, but the approach has failed to pull in new viewers.

Fox News, the most-watched cable news network, saw its ratings take a hit after the April 24 firing of its biggest prime time star, Tucker Carlson. There is no evidence in the Nielsen data that shows CNN has picked up any of those defectors, some of whom have gone to Newsmax.

Collins is considered a straight-shooter who does not report with a political bent, although the Alabama native began her journalism career at the Daily Caller, a conservative news website that Carlson founded. (Carlson gave up his stake in the site in 2020.)

CNN hired Collins in 2017 and assigned her to cover the Trump White House. She then spent two years covering President Biden’s administration.

While Collins was considered one of the few White House reporters Trump would tolerate, her tenacious style occasionally irritated his administration. She was once excluded from covering an event after shouting several uncomfortable questions to Trump during an Oval Office meeting.

Collins will be the youngest prime time host in cable news, where the median age of the audience is over 64.

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