“Happy Super Tuesday,” the prolific conservative talk-show pundit Glenn Beck told viewers of Turner Broadcasting’s stepchild cable news channel, Headline News, on the evening of Feb. 5. “We’ve got a very low budget. This is, like, the fourth-most-impressive election team on television.”
It was just his excessively self-effacing way of countering the slogans coming out of the big cable channels that night: CNN’s “Best Political Team on Television,” MSNBC’s “The Place for Politics,” Fox News’ “Best Political Analysts.”
Mr. Beck was on the phone with NYTV on Monday afternoon, discussing his latest professional gig: hosting live coverage of big political nights for Headline News.
Historically, the brass at Turner Broadcasting has designated CNN to cover the big political nights and instructed Headline News to ignore the balloting. But recently Mr. Beck has begun dabbling in the genre. Super Tuesday was the test flight. For an hour following his introduction (and again from 9 to 10 p.m.), the show featured the banter of Mr. Beck and a motley crew of political guests; regular live cut-ins from CNN correspondents with updates from the field; and jokes by Mr. Beck about his “binge cake” (an imaginary confection to help smother the pain each time his preferred candidate, Mitt Romney, took another beating at the polls).
And in the end, Mr. Beck’s live coverage attracted more viewers than his usual taped fare: According to CNN analysis of Nielsen data, the audience on Super Tuesday was up 40 percent at 7 p.m. among 25-to-54-years-olds (versus the show’s year-to-date average), and up 18 percent in the same demographic at 9 p.m. Last Tuesday, March 4, Mr. Beck provided live coverage of the so-called Super Tuesday II primaries. Again, his numbers got a nice bump.
Mr. Beck said on Monday that, based in part on those numbers, he expects to be allowed to continue his experiment, possibly on April 22, the night of the Pennsylvania primary, and certainly in the general election ahead.
This was not expected. According to Ken Jautz, the executive vice president of CNN Worldwide, during important political nights, Nancy Grace and Showbiz Tonight, which first run in the 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. time slots respectively, often put up larger-than-usual numbers by fully ignoring the day’s political news.
“They say, ‘It’s a big-deal night in politics, folks, and if you’re interested, go over to CNN,’” said Mr. Jautz. “Despite starting off that way, the shows do well. Why? Because it’s a large nation with diverse news needs.”
So, why, given Headline News complementary program strategy, should Glenn Back risk competing with CNN?
Mr. Jautz said the decision dates back to the night of Nov. 7, 2006, the midterm Congressional elections. Showbiz Tonight featured a successful hour of breaking news about Britney Spears filing for divorce, including an exclusive interview with Kevin Federline. (Sample K-Fed quote: “[T]hey’re going to push my buttons and one day I’m going to break somebody’s neck.”) Glenn Beck featured a taped interview with John Fund on the subject of election fraud.
“That was the first time [Glenn Beck] had a big political night,” said Mr. Jautz. “We ran an evergreen. And we didn’t like that.”
A year and a half and a dollar later (or not much more than that), a live-coverage news program was born. No whiz-bang electronics, “Bill Boards” or fancy draw-with-your-finger electronic electoral maps here. “I said the other day, I think we should go the other way,” said Mr. Beck. “We should bring in an abacus.”
TV Tyro Noah Oppenheim Rides David Gregory Back to Primetime
On March 10, NBC senior vice president Phil Griffin and his colleagues announced that David Gregory would be replacing Tucker Carlson as the 6 p.m. anchor on MSNBC.
Shortly thereafter, NYTV learned that Noah Oppenheim (currently a senior producer overseeing the important 7-8 a.m. hour of NBC’s Today) will serve as a top producer for Mr. Gregory’s new show, Road to the White House.
It’s a return for the 29-year-old producer to an evening news lineup he left under something of a storm cloud four and a half years ago. (Mr. Oppenheim would not comment for this article.)