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November TV Ratings Period Brings Changes

By November 21, 2011

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The critical November TV ratings period ends on Wednesday. While we don't yet have the complete Nielsen TV ratings, in some boardrooms, changes are already being made based on disappointing early data.

A photo of TV personality Gayle King
Gayle King gets a career boost in the CBS morning news overhaul.
Photo © Getty Images for Macy's
But the changes also provide oppotunity for a lucky few. Gayle King will be leaving the struggling Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), where she's already hosted her final talk show, to join the latest revamped team of The Early Show on CBS. While she's giving up one set of problems for another, at least she'll be seen on a broadcast network.

King's exit from OWN, which this summer was 73rd in the cable TV ratings, is a blow for the struggling channel. King is Oprah Winfrey's best friend and is just the latest OWN staffer to hit the exit button. But OWN executives are publicly wishing her the best.

As for The Early Show on CBS, it's getting an injection of hard news to separate itself from NBC's The Today Show and ABC's Good Morning America. That is the same strategy that's taking place at the third-place CBS Evening News, which is returning to its hard news roots with new anchor Scott Pelley. The new morning show is expected to have a new name when it premieres in January.

At NBC, the new newsmagazine Rock Center with Brian Williams isn't even a month old and already the network is shifting it to a new day and time. Starting in February, it'll move from Mondays at 10 p.m. ET to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET. In its first two outings, Rock Center has struggled just to match the ratings of the program it replaced, The Playboy Club.

But news is cheaper to produce than a bunny drama, so NBC's move still makes revenue sense. The Rock Center exclusive interview last week with former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky gave it a ratings boost, which shows the right content will move the ratings needle. But that boost has to be put into perspective -- Rock Center got about four and-a-half million viewers that night, compared to audiences of more than 13 million on ABC and about 11 and-a-half million on CBS.

NBC is likely hoping that the 2012 presidential race will have Americans turning back to news programming in prime time. That's also the hope at CNN, where Piers Morgan will be in his first election cycle as host of Piers Morgan Tonight. His predecessor Larry King was able to capitalize on politics, creating buzz with Ross Perot, Al Gore and others over the years.

Morgan has announced that he's leaving his other gig as judge of NBC's America's Got Talent. That's so he can concentrate on the elections, according to CNN.

Morgan's ratings are a fraction of top-rated Hannity on Fox News Channel. But it's hard to compare Morgan's performance to King's in his heyday. King had a unique show that wasn't up against Fox News Channel or MSNBC when he was at his peak.

The November ratings are important because they're the first test of the new TV season. You can expect more changes to come once the complete ratings are released.

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