CNN's 'Chicagoland' Documentary a Ratings Disappointment

CNN's 'Chicagoland' Documentary a Ratings Disappointment

On Thursday, CNN debuted the first of six episodes of a celebrated and much-hyped documentary on the city of Chicago, but viewers didn’t seem much interested.

The March 6 debut of CNN’s Robert Redford-produced Chicagoland did bring CNN more viewers during the time slot than other shows aired over the last three Thursdays, but even at double the normal number of viewers for CNN, that number paled in comparison to its competition.

The heavily advertised debut garnered only 227,000 viewers in the important adults 25-54 demographic, with 629,000 total viewers. It left Chicagoland in third place behind Fox News’ Hannity, with 1.43 million total viewers, and MSNBC’s Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell, which drew 816,000 total viewers.

The series is intended to chronicle “a pivotal year in the life of a major heartland city and some memorable locals.”

CNN’s chief Jeff Zucker was celebrated for the genius move of bringing documentaries to the cable news network when in 2013 the killer whale documentary Blackfish made waves in the ratings. But since Blackfish, CNN’s other documentaries haven’t lived up to that ratings success.

In fact, as low as they are, the ratings for Chicagoland have been higher than the other entries in Zucker’s documentary push, calling into question just how successful his documentary series move has been.

But the first episode of Chicagoland didn’t debut before causing some controversy. As it happens, on the show website visitors where presented with a photograph of what Chicago looked like in 1837. The problem? There is no known photo of Chicago taken that early. Why? Because there were no photos taken in the whole country before the first known image was taken in 1839–and it wasn’t even taken in Chicago.

Worse, the photo used was a still from a 1937 silent movie about the city, and experts say that Chicago didn’t look like that anyway.

Producers of Chicagoland apologized for using the misleading photo and took it down. Their excuse was that they were told it was a proper historic photo and they didn’t know it was from a Hollywood movie.

It is also possible that Chicagoland producers cribbed the image from a Chicagoan’s blog in a piece he posted about the city’s 175th Anniversary. The Chicago Tribune noted that when a search is made for such a photo in Google Images, the blogger’s image is the first one that appears.

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