NewsNation cut back to two hours but more are planned
In a surprising move, WGN America announced Tuesday it was cutting its NewsNation prime-time block by a third to slot a new interview show hosted by former cable news personality Ashleigh Banfield.
As first reported by Variety, the Nexstar-owned cable network is debuting her new show March 1 at 9 p.m. Central Time, with the first two hours consisting of NewsNation, airing from 7 to 9 p.m. Central.
But this doesn’t mean Nexstar is lessening its commitment to NewsNation. WGN America is considering adding the news program in other dayparts outside of primetime but didn’t specify plans.
Billed as a biased-free alternative to the cable news networks, NewsNation has been poorly received by audiences and critics alike. Ratings are down considerably from a year ago, when prime-time was filled with off-network programming. While its cable news counterparts have attracted millions of viewers in a hotly contested election season, NewsNation has attracted viewers in the tens of thousands.
As for Banfield’s new show, it’s being billed as a Larry King-style show – one he hosted on CNN for 25 years.
“As WGN America begins expanding its programming and distribution in 2021, Ashleigh’s national appeal and network experience will help us reach new viewers seeking balance, not bias in news reporting, and talk programming that offers several points of view,” said programming President Sean Compton in a statement. “We are excited to add ‘Banfield’ to our growing lineup of news programming.”
While NewsNation is continuing to be based out of WGN-TV’s studios in Chicago, Banfield’s show will actually be taped from a studio in Connecticut – presumably Stamford, where several productions are based.
Banfield’s long career has taken her from the battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan to studio host, working for CNN, HLN, Investigation Discovery, and MSNBC, among others. Her new show is “booking-driven”, meaning the show’s content will depend heavily on who’s on that night.
The investment in original, prime-time programming is one of the reasons why Nexstar was pushing for more carriage deals for WGN America, making some in the last few weeks with YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV. Last month, Nexstar entered in a carriage dispute with Dish, pulling the cable network and related Nexstar broadcast stations off the satellite provider for about two weeks before a deal was reached and the channels returned Christmas morning.
WGN America was once known as the superstation feed of WGN-TV until 2014, when it split from its Chicago counterpart to become a straight cable network (similar to what Turner did in 2007 with its TBS national and WTBS Atlanta feeds, the latter becoming WPCH-TV.) The same year, WGN America removed all sports programming, including the ever-popular Chicago Cubs.