With all due respect to the debate over theatrical windowing, CinemaCon 2023 in Las Vegas kicked off with conversation not about movie theaters, but about much smaller screens. At Caesar’s Palace, everyone’s talking about cable news.
The dominoes dropped early and fast on Monday: First Tucker Carlson was fired by Fox News, and then Don Lemon was let go at CNN.
Carlson, who “agreed to part ways” with Fox News on Monday, and Lemon, who said in a Twitter post that he was informed by his agent that he was “terminated” by CNN, sucked up a lot of the oxygen early going amid all the Day 1 CinemaCon festivities.
If we were betting men, we’d be spending more time at the craps table — or, we would have guessed that the hot Monday topic in Vegas would be the sudden departure of NBCUniversal chief Jeff Shell, who was fired Sunday following an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint. Or, maybe the thousands of layoffs planned this week at Disney. Shell and Disney might be breathing a little easier with so many people distracted by wondering what the next move would be for two of the biggest names in cable news.
“Holy crap,” one exhibitor source texted IndieWire. “It’s a nutty day,” another texted us. “Holy cow… what is going on,” a PR exec and veteran of the CinemaCon scene said via email. Another communications professional on-site told IndieWire a carefully planned corporate announcement for Monday morning was “completely overshadowed” by today’s drama.
Maybe we’ll talk more Shell on Wednesday, when NBCU and Focus Features share a CinemaCon presentation. Monday was meant to be Sony’s big day at the Caesar’s Palace Colosseum and they’ll still get their time from 6:15 p.m. PT to 8:15 p.m. PT. But it’ll take a hell of a showing from “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” to get this day back on track.
Carlson was a force for Fox News Channel. Just last month, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” an 8 p.m program, was the most-watched show in all of cable news averaging 3.3 million total viewers per evening, according to Nielsen data. Carlson’s show was the No. 1 cable news program in the key demo (443,000 viewers aged 25-54) for the first quarter of 2023.
Carlson also had been ruffling feathers at Fox lately, according to a fourth person who spoke to IndieWire for this story. According to this source, who was also shocked by the ouster, Carlson liked to push things to see how much he could get away with.
That drama picked up more steam as recently as last week when fired Fox News producer Abby Grossberg escalated her lawsuit against the network. Grossberg, a senior producer for Carlson and Maria Bartiromo, was fired in March after she filed a lawsuit claiming she was asked to give misleading testimony in the now-settled Dominion case and that she was being made a scapegoat.
Grossberg’s most recent statement said she had new evidence, namely another cell phone with Dominion information that Fox never searched during court-ordered discovery despite her reminding them to do so. She also accused Carlson in particular of operating “a work environment that subjugates women based on vile sexist stereotypes.” Also not great.
Carlson the man may be highly replaceable, but Carlson the personality is a trickier assignment. Rising Fox News star Jesse Watters is the heir apparent, one person with knowledge of the inner workings told us. (Officially, for now, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” will be replaced by “Fox News Tonight,” which will feature rotating hosts.)
If not Watters, perhaps Pete Hegseth of “Fox and Friends.” Potential landing spots for Carlson include right-wing news networks Newsmax TV and The First, though both would struggle to pay him as well as Fox did. Carlson co-founded The Daily Caller, but he sold his stake in the company years ago.
Lemon did not have the ratings. With Lemon as the centerpiece, “CNN This Morning” is actually down 9 percent in both total viewers and the key demo from the show it replaced, “New Day.” The new morning show, part of Chris Licht’s master plan to save CNN, gets creamed by MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and totally destroyed by “Fox and Friends.”
It also didn’t help that he was in the crossfire for criticism over sexist remarks he made on air, saying that presidential candidate Nikki Haley was “past her prime” because “a woman is considered to be in their prime in their 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.” Variety also ran a story saying that Lemon had a history of disrespecting women at CNN that dated back years, though Lemon in a statement denied those claims.
— Don Lemon (@donlemon) April 24, 2023
For its part, CNN said the thing about Lemon not being told directly is nonsense.
Don Lemon’s statement about this morning’s events is inaccurate. He was offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter.
— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) April 24, 2023
“Holy crap” is right.