News and Analysis

Don Lemon Vows To Be ‘This Generation’s Version Of’ Johnny Carson, Oprah

   DailyWire.com
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE! - "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EDT and features a diverse lineup of guests that include celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Tuesday, September 10, included Ed Helms ("Corporate Animals"), Don Lemon ("CNN Tonight with Don Lemon"), and musical guest Weezer. (Randy Holmes via Getty Images)
Randy Holmes via Getty Images

Don Lemon, whose CNN show has lost 46% of its audience since April, promises that his forthcoming show on the network’s streaming platform will be “this generation’s version” of talk show royalty such as Johnny Carson, Oprah Winfrey, and Phil Donahue.

The network announced that there will be “no limits to the conversation” when “The Don Lemon Show” begins to air CNN+ when the service goes live later this year. The weekly show will feature Lemon discussing “the most talkable news stories each week” in front of a live studio audience. This comes in addition to his hosting “Don Lemon Tonight” on CNN’s cable feed from 10 p.m. to midnight Eastern time.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, Lemon said he plans for the new show to follow in the footsteps of the highest-rated talk and variety programs in television history. “I’ve been enamored by talk shows since I was a child. I’d hide the remote and made my siblings watch Johnny Carson. I wanted to be him,” said Lemon.

“And then I discovered Phil Donahue and it all clicked. ‘Caller, you’re on the air.’ A talk show centered around news, current events and everyday provocative topics – I watched every single day! Same with Oprah,” he added.

“Time now for this generation’s version of that great tradition,” Lemon continued. “This is my opportunity to dig deeply into the topics I’m passionate about and not limited to the news of the day.”

Few details of Lemon’s second eponymous series have been released, but it is unlikely to enter the same ratings pantheon as those which he name-checked. While the entertainment landscape has changed dramatically since his retirement in 1992, Johnny Carson was a beloved figure in American culture for the entirety of his 30-year run as host of NBC’s “Tonight Show.” Carson’s highest-rated episode during his regular run drew 45 million viewers; some 55 million viewers tuned in his final turn as host. At the peak of his tenure behind the desk, Carson’s program produced 17% of NBC’s total profits — and he was rated most popular late-night talk show host in a Quinnipiac poll taken in 2015, 10 years after his death.

Phil Donahue’s syndicated daytime talk show drew 8.5 million viewers in 1980. The Chicago-based Oprah Winfrey eclipsed him when her own show debuted in 1986 and hit a peak audience of 12 to 13 million viewers in the early 1990s.

By contrast, “Don Lemon Tonight” drew an average audience of 486,000 viewers last month.

Lemon does not appear to have the highly developed sense of humor evident from those legends, particularly Carson and Winfrey. Don Lemon’s biggest on-screen laugh came when former Republican strategist Rick Wilson mocked Trump voters in January 2020. As Wilson said the GOP party base knows little about “yer geography, and yer spellin, and yer math, and yer readin,” Lemon laughed until he cried.

CNN, which is presently facing a sale from AT&T to Discovery, has previously announced it would join Fox News by launching its own paid streaming platform. The subscription service, whose debut had been planned for this spring, will also host the full library of other shows, such as W. Kamau Bell’s “United Shades of America.”

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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