In the end, are guns what killed CNN's "Piers Morgan Live"?
The show, hosted by anti-gun crusader Morgan, continues to struggle in the Nielsens. And this month, the start of the Michael Dunn loud-music murder trial in Florida has put the issue of gun control back in the forefront. February has also produced six of the show's smallest 10 audiences since it bowed in January 2011.
Rudy Giuliani, drew the show's second smallest audience to date in the key news demo of adults 25-54 (50,000). It also drew just 270,000 total viewers, according to Nielsen, the show's ninth smallest gathering ever.
"Piers Morgan Live" has fallen below the 300,000-viewer mark on seven other occasions in February. And while the Winter Olympics on NBC may be to blame for some of the audience loss this month, "Piers Morgan" is drawing just a fraction of the audience attracted by competing shows on CNN and MSNBC.
Opposite "Piers Morgan" on Tuesday, "The Kelly File" on Fox News Channel drew 2.07 million viewers (including 354,000 adults 25-54) while MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" attracted 906,000 (including 227,000 in the demo).
"Piers Morgan Live" isn't CNN's only problem in primetime, of course, as the entire lineup has struggled and CNN topper Jeff Zucker has promised that 2014 would be a year of "shake up." On Tuesday from 8 to 11 p.m., the network averaged just 64,000 adults 25-54 -- not far from its all-time low of 57,000 in May 2000.
Morgan has long been an outspoken critic of U.S. gun laws, but the drumbeat has grown louder in the two years since George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin. On his CNN show in December 2012, Morgan got into a heated exchange with gun-rights activist Larry Pratt, asking at one point: "You're an unbelievably stupid man, aren't you?"
There's no way to quantify how much of a factor the discussion of gun control on "Piers Morgan Live" has contributed to its ratings (which were never all that great to begin with), but the show's numbers have fallen more sharply since it became a frequent subject on the show.
Monday's installment included discussion of the Dunn murder trial and Zimmerman's assertion in a CNN interview with Chris Cuomo earlier that day that he was a victim.
HLN host Nancy Grace was among the guests, and she didn't want to hear more gun-control talk from Morgan.
"Are you back on gun control again?" she asked. "If it weren't for the British, we wouldn't even have to have protections to carry guns. It was the British way back when they founded America. They were running through all of our homes trying to take our stuff. So we're protected under the Constitution.
"So it's not really right for a Brit to jump up and start talking to us about gun control."
Morgan said he vehemently disagreed, but after a moment's pause, he said: "Let's not talk about gun control because Nancy's made her statement and I was riposted."
On Tuesday, an interview with Giuliani touched on several subjects but closed on the issue of guns, with Morgan bemoaning that "all the time now, in America, we're hearing of this casual loss of life through guns. At what point does the gun itself not become a major issue?"
Wednesday's hour, which featured Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Gayle King talking about the science of loneliness and its possible correlation to violence, grew to 345,000 viewers. The word "gun" wasn't uttered once, according to a CNN transcript of the program.