IF TELEVISION NEWS IS A BUSINESS…. It never made much sense that CNN would give Glenn Beck a prime-time show on “Headline News.” Beck, best known as a right-wing radio host, never quite fit in.

Media Matters and ThinkProgress have some of Beck’s “greatest hits,” but some of my personal favorites include the time Beck called Hillary Clinton and John Edwards “communists,” the time he explained why he agrees with the John Birch Society, the time he said he agreed with al Qaeda about the moral degradation of America, and of course the time he confronted Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim to serve in Congress, asking, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”

But, television news is a business, and CNN was under the impression that Beck, no matter how far outside the political mainstream, drew an audience. So, they kept paying him and giving him a high-profile platform to spew nonsense. That is, until Fox News picked up Beck for its lineup.

What happened to Headline News’ ratings? Well, they went up, actually.

Jane Velez-Mitchell, the HLN host who replaced Glenn Beck when he jumped ship for Fox News, is already topping Beck’s ratings from when he held the time slot.

In its third full month on the air, “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell” posted HLN’s largest 7PM audience since it launched its primetime block in February 2005. For January 2009, “Issues” averaged 531,000 total viewers and 221,000 Adults 25-54, a 50% increase in total viewers and a 46% increase in the demo over Beck’s January 2008 ratings.

Velez-Mitchell’s January ratings also represent an 8% increase in total viewers and a 19% increase in the demo over Beck’s last (and best) month on HLN. Beck’s last full month on the air there was September 2008, when he averaged 492,000 total viewers and 185,000 in the demo. Velez-Mitchell took over the time slot on October 17.

Keep in mind, Beck was “a colossal ratings failure” before he left for Fox News, but CNN, for reasons that have never been clear, seemed reluctant to go with a sane host that viewers may want to watch.

But now that he’s gone, viewers have apparently decided it’s safe to turn back to “Headline News” after all. Here’s hoping news execs take notice.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.