Feb 26, 2022 - Economy

Scoop: CNN to dull its liberal edge

Chris Licht with Stephen Colbert in 2018. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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.

Go deeper: Sara Fischer on Licht ... Licht's bio.

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