Scoop: CNN to dull its liberal edge
Under new chief Chris Licht, CNN will dial down the prime-time partisanship and double down on the network's news-gathering muscle, top sources tell me.
Why it matters: Ratings are secondary to credibility, in the view of Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who's taking over CNN.
Jeff Zucker's successor at the CNN helm will be Licht — showrunner of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and a popular, pioneering producer who knows his way around America's top control rooms.
- The selection of Licht, a regular at Zaslav summer parties in the Hamptons, was reported first by Puck News' Dylan Byers. Licht will be named next week.
- Licht — CBS' EVP of Special Programming — succeeded with three very different programs: Colbert rose on his watch to become the most-watched network late-night show, with live shows for big news ... "CBS This Morning" got a ratings jolt when he was E.P. ... and he was co-creator and original E.P. of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe."
What's happening: Zaslav, at the urging of mentor John Malone, is likely to push CNN back to hard news, and away from red-hot liberal opining.
- Taking on a second hallmark of the Zucker regime, the incoming Discovery team has expressed skepticism about the roster size for CNN+, the streaming service Zucker had been stocking with expensive talent.
Between the lines: Axios is told that Licht and Zaslav share a view that CNN was chasing prime-time ratings at the expense of the brand.
- Zaslav wants to move CNN back to the middle.
- CNN at all hours will emphasize the type of indispensable coverage we've been seeing from Ukraine — a deployment built on Zucker's flood-the-zone, own-the story playbook, and hires including Clarissa Ward.
- CNN's footprint includes 11 U.S. bureaus and 28 internationally. Zucker invested heavily in CNN Digital, which boasts 200 million unique visitors globally each month.
The intrigue: Zucker ran an empire of 4,500 (not counting Turner Sports, which he also headed). But Licht's domain may be smaller:
- Staff is bracing for CNN+ to shrink before it even launches this spring.
- Executives have discussed moving HLN, formerly Headline News, under the purview of a current Discovery executive, Kathleen Finch.
- A separate executive will head sports.