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Sunday Nights Belong To CNN

Jeff Zucker chips away at Fox News' cable news dominance with CNN's Sunday night formula.

Posted on June 11, 2014, at 2:14 p.m. ET

Loosening Fox News' stranglehold on the cable news ratings game is the number one problem that has befuddled CNN and the rest of cable news for 12 years.

Ratings wins over Fox News in the almighty demo category do happen for CNN and MSNBC. The victories are usually by a small margin on a random night. And, lately, wins are side effects of captivating breaking news events — like a missing plane or Chris Christie traffic problems — that float another cable news network ahead for a brief victory over a few days or, if they're lucky, a week.

But there is a time that Fox News does lose consistently in the ratings: Sunday nights — and it's worth noticing. It's especially worth noticing because the winner is CNN's new style of cable news.

The graphic below charts Sunday's primetime ratings in demo since the season premiere of Anthony Bourdain's successful "news for people who don't want news" show, Parts Unknown in April:

So there you have it: Fox News losing Sunday nights to, well, just about everyone in cable news for two straight months.

CNN's small opening on Sunday nights with this new formula has a chance to hold, possibly expand with more of these new style projects in the pipeline featuring proven talent like the very popular Dirty Jobs guy, Mike Rowe, America's Most Wanted vet John Walsh, and Emmy nominee Lisa Ling.

It's actually pretty surprising that a cable news innovator like Roger Ailes hasn't touched this kind of entertainment-focused taped programming yet — or at least addressed CNN's foray into the format. It could be that he's just ignoring it and sticking to what has been working just fine for Fox News.

But in a changing cable news world where Huckabee and Hannity are consistently losing to Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock — no matter what night of the week — it might be time to at least start experimenting with some fresh programming at FNC.

And the network does have options.

For starters, Fox News recently welcomed actress Stacey Dash as a paid contributor to the network. She's already co-hosted Ailes' latest success, Outnumbered, and, who knows, if Ailes ever decided to dip his toes in the world of news for people who don't want news, then Dash would be an excellent vehicle for a first experiment.

Another option could be Ailes' old friend Glenn Beck and his production setup at the BlazeTV network.

Beck has made it clear he's over politics and wants to become a mogul in the Walt Disney mold. Although his movie about Tesla and Edison has yet to be released, he's not quite there yet. Why not work on bigger, high-concept productions based on ideas from the ratings geniuses at Fox News? If just one effort is a hit, it could help Beck and the Blaze on their way to a larger audience and allow Ailes to brush off yet another spasm of ratings victories by his foes.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.