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CNN Abruptly Drops Anchor Connie Chung

March 28, 2003
AP Television

NEW YORK - CNN on Tuesday abruptly dropped one of its best-known anchors, Connie Chung, who had been hired only last spring as the centerpiece of a star-driven prime-time lineup.

"Connie Chung Tonight" had been criticized in some circles for its emphasis on crime and personality stories but had drawn strong ratings in a nondescript time slot.

Her show was temporarily replaced by an Aaron Brown-anchored news program after the war's start last week and she had asked management for a time when it would come back. Instead, she was informed Tuesday that the show had been canceled, CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson said.

Chung was asked to stay at CNN in another capacity and declined, Robinson said.

She could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday night. CNN wouldn't provide a home number for Chung but said it would send a message to her producer seeking comment.

A major figure in broadcasting over the past 30 years, Chung was hired away from ABC News last year, where she primarily worked in newsmagazines and landed a high-profile interview with Gary Condit. CNN built a new studio for her in midtown Manhattan and the program launched on June 24.

She envisioned her show opening each night with a detailed look at one of the day's top stories, featuring newsmaker interviews, and highlighting emerging issues.

It evolved into a program concentrating heavily on crime stories, and this master of the taped interview occasionally seemed awkward in a live format. It didn't help when CNN founder Ted Turner, in an interview this winter, described her show as "just awful."

She also apparently became caught in the crosswinds of change at CNN. Turner Broadcasting chief Jamie Kellner wanted to attract viewers with well-known names, but he and CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson, who hired her, have since resigned.

Isaacson's replacement, Jim Walton, has sought a less flashy, more serious approach to the news and recently canceled the long-running afternoon talk show, "Talkback Live."

Chung's show had roughly half the audience of cable news' nighttime king, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, but she averaged almost 1 million viewers a night and improved CNN's performance in the 8 p.m. ET time slot. And she lasted longer than MSNBC's big gun hired for the time slot around the same time Phil Donahue.

CNN has not yet decided what will go in her time slot, Robinson said.