King Charles, the brainchild of deposed CNN chief Chris Licht, premiered on Wednesday night with the lowest-rated primetime weeknight series debut for the network in at least a decade, according to Nielsen.
Meanwhile, this comparison does not include temporary primetime replacement programming or limited-run weeknight series that aired on CNN.
Going back as far as the 2011 debut of Erin Burnett Outfront, which technically airs outside primetime at 7 p.m. ET, CNN hasn’t seen a weeknight series debut as soft as King Charles.
The weekly show, which airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET, features the unlikely duo of NBA legend Charles Barkley and CBS anchor Gayle King sharing the spotlight while discussing cultural, social, and political issues. Wednesday’s launch of the talk show featured interviews with Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, rapper Fat Joe, and the Gannett journalists who were recently hired to specifically cover Taylor Swift and Beyoncé.
Despite a last-minute promotional push, which saw the duo appearing across CNN programming, the prospect of seeing Barkley and King shoot the breeze with a variety of guests for an hour appears to have not been an immediate hit with viewers.
According to Nielsen, King Charles pulled in just 501,000 total viewers and 139,000 in the coveted advertising demographic of adults aged 25-54. In comparison, MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, which also airs at 10 p.m., tripled up the CNN show, drawing 1.621 million viewers overall. Fox News’s Gutfeld! won the cable news hour, averaging 1.973 million total viewers and a demo audience of 257,000.
At the same time, though, King Charles was able to nudge ahead of The Last Word’s 132,000 viewers in the key demographic. And CNN beat MSNBC overall in the 25-54 demo on Wednesday night.
In fact, Wednesday’s episode of King Charles drew the smallest viewership of a CNN weeknight primetime debut in at least ten years. Even after CNN recently shook up its primetime slate earlier this year following Licht’s departure, largely due to a sharp downfall in ratings, those new programs pulled in higher audiences in their premieres than the Barkley/King offering.
For instance, Laura Coates Live—which debuted on Oct. 9 at 11 p.m. ET and technically falls outside the standard primetime definition—pulled in 535,000 total viewers and 132,000 in the key demo. NewsNight with Abby Phillip, which also premiered on Oct. 9 at 10 p.m., brought in an audience of 645,000 viewers overall and 141,000 in the 25-54 category.
The Source with Kaitlan Collins, another recent primetime debut that has been plagued by soft ratings early in its run, still drew 540,000 total viewers when it made its maiden broadcast on July 10. Collins’ premiere, however, was well below King Charles in the key demographic, only averaging 83,000 in the category.
The primetime offerings of Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo, who have both since been fired by the network, drew significantly more in their inaugural broadcasts than King Charles. Lemon’s 10 p.m. premiere in 2021 pulled in 944,000 total viewers, while Cuomo’s 2017 debut brought in a robust audience of 1.528 million.
Burnett’s show, meanwhile, premiered in Oct. 2011 with 535,000 total viewers and 215,000 in the advertising demographic.
Compared to CNN’s recent 10 p.m. debuts, King Charles was rated 25 percent lower than Phillip’s show and 50 percent below Lemon’s program. Additionally, the network’s viewership declined by 16 percent in total viewers compared to The Source, CNN’s 9 p.m. lead-in.
While King Charles was always scheduled to debut this fall, the Licht creation’s first broadcast was pushed back by several weeks due to the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war and the network’s round-the-clock coverage of the conflict.
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