CNN host Don Lemon has doubled down on the assertion that his move from primetime to mornings is not a demotion.
It was announced last month that Lemon and his CNN colleagues Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins were tapped to co-host "CNN This Morning," a revamping of the network's morning show, replacing the poorly-watched "New Day."
In the world of television news, a primetime program bearing the name of the host is considered the highest possible perch. But Lemon, who formally hosted "Don Lemon Tonight," apparently does not see sharing a morning show with two others as a step down.
"There is nothing in my contract and in my form of compensation that will say I am being lowered in stature at this network or in the media," Lemon told Vanity Fair in a piece published Friday.
Lemon called the soon-to-be-launched morning show the "biggest priority" and "first priority" of new CNN boss Chris Licht, who previously launched "Morning Joe" on MSNBC and helped elevate "CBS This Morning" as the executive producer.
"The idea that he would choose someone he was trying to diminish or lower in stature is just nonsensical. It’s actually really dumb," Lemon said. "And I think people who think that or who write that or talk about that have an agenda. And so I’ll let them have their agenda. I’m doing what’s best for me, for my family, and I’m also doing what I believe is best for the viewer."
In the post-Trump era, Lemon's two-hour stint in primetime was one of CNN's lowest-rated programs, almost as bad as "New Day." In 2022, "Don Lemon Tonight" had averaged 683,000 viewers, a 34% loss from his 2021 viewership, regularly at a distant third behind Fox News and MSNBC.
Under CNN's new management, which is aiming for nonpartisan programming, critics speculated that Lemon would be one of the first people to be axed for being a staunchly liberal TV personality.
Instead, Lemon was reshuffled away from primetime, historically known to earn the network's biggest audiences.
"For all those who are out there saying, ‘Oh, he moved me and without my —,’ he asked me and I said yes. I could have said no. This is my show, I have a contract for this show, I decided I would take him up on that and take this journey with him. This is not someone moving me," Lemon said after the morning show was announced. "I was not demoted. None of that. This is an opportunity. This is a promotion. This is an opportunity for me to create something around me and I get to work with two great ladies [Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins] who you know."
Licht is hoping "CNN This Morning" can revitalize the network's morning programming. In its final stretch, "New Day" had failed to reach 500,000 viewers. Meanwhile, Fox News' "Fox & Friends" averaged 1.6 million viewers.
"New Day" co-hosts John Berman and Brianna Keilar are set to find new roles at the network.
Other programming shakeups include Licht's decision to place CNN anchor Jake Tapper in the long-vacant 9 p.m. ET time slot as well as Alisyn Camerota and Laura Coates filling in Lemon's old time slot through the midterms.
Fox News' Brian Flood contributed to this report.