The Cutline

Erin Burnett’s ‘OutFront’ stumbles out of the gate

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
The Cutline

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Burnett at the "OutFront" launch party, Sept. 27, 2011. (AP/Starpix)

Erin Burnett's new primetime show is off to a rockier start than CNN probably had hoped--and not just in the ratings. The former CNBC star's 7 p.m. show, "OutFront," drew 535,000 total viewers in her debut, according to Nielsen Research, and 215,000 24-to-54-year-olds--less than what her predecessor, John King, drew (693,000 total viewers, 228,000 25-to-54-year-olds) on his first night in that time slot. ("OutFront" did beat MSNBC's "Hardball.")

Burnett's viewers fell during the week of the "OutFront" premiere, though that's to be expected with any new launch. Compared to King's first week, however, Burnett drew 24 percent fewer total viewers, and with 13 less in the coveted 25-to-54-year-old demo. And Monday's episode saw a 31 percent decline in total viewers compared to her Oct. 3 debut--and a 54 percent drop in 25-to-54-year-olds.

In press interviews prior to her CNN debut, Burnett said won't pay attention to ratings. ("Once you start doing that, it's like death," she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

What's more troubling for Burnett and CNN, then, is how her coverage of the Wall Street protests was received.

Burnett, an ex-Goldman Sachs analyst, visited the Occupy Wall Street protesters on her first show and concluded, "Seriously, it's a mixed bag. But they were happy to take some time from their books, banjos, bongos, sports drinks, catered lunch--yeah there was catered lunch--designer yoga clothing (that's a Lulu Lemon logo) and computers, lot's of Macbooks and phones to help us get to the bottom of it."

Slate's Dave Weigel likened Burnett's Occupy Wall Street report to "hippie punching." The Atlantic's Adam Clark Estes wrote that "CNN's new star is a little too sympathetic to Wall Street."Michael Moore--a frequent CNN guest and Occupy Wall Street supporter--didn't understand it. MSNBC's Chris Hayes called Burnett's approach "frustrating." The Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik called her "smug," "insensitive" and "deplorable." Certainly not the "casual, smart, and confident" style CNN has been boasting Burnett would showcase.

CNN, however, dismissed the criticism. "We support Erin and the OutFront team and we respect that there will be a range of opinions on any given story," the network told The Atlantic.

Perhaps Burnett was listening. By her third show, she was giving protesters a modicum of respect, ranking them as the no. 2 story on the "Countdown"-like "OutFront Five"--right behind Sarah Palin.

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