Jeff Zucker, the new president of CNN Worldwide, has made no secret of his intention to shake up things at the ratings-challenged news network, and on 1/29, he did just that. Zucker launched his makeover by announcing the imminent arrival of ABC News anchor Chris Cuomo to take over the troubled 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. slot currently occupied by Soledad O’Brien. According to The Daily Beast, Cuomo, who was said to be unhappy at ABC’s 20/20 since being passed over in 2009 for the top job at Good Morning America, will be joined in the morning by the current anchor of CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront, leaving a hole for Zucker to fill at 7 p.m.
CNN veteran O’Brien’s fate is up in the air, though it’s probable she’ll receive a plum assignment. “Soledad is very important to the network and we are discussing various options with her,” a CNN spokeswoman said in a terse statement.
That sort of decisive leadership is exactly what Zucker was hired to bring by Time Warner chief executive Jeffrey Bewkes, who lured the former chairman of NBC Universal from his perch running Katie Couric’s syndicated daytime show.
The 47-year-old Zucker started his first official day of work at CNN on 1/21 by kibitzing in the Washington control room of the outlet’s live presidential inaugural coverage.
The previous week at a town meeting in New York for 600 CNN employees, Zucker made it clear that one of his top priorities would be trying to fix the cable outlet’s troubled morning program.
Among other programming changes, former ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper is expected to anchor the 4 p.m. slot, appropriating an hour from The Situation Room’s Wolf Blitzer, and former ESPN personality Rachel Nichols will preside over a weekend sports show.
Meanwhile, attendees of Tuesday’s regular 10 a.m. news meeting on the fifth floor of the Time Warner Center found Zucker sitting in the captain’s chair normally occupied by CNN Managing Editor Mark Whitaker, who’d announced his resignation a couple of hours earlier.
“We have a new leader with his own forceful ideas about where to take CNN’s reporting, programming, and brand,” Whitaker wrote in a lengthy memo explaining his departure, which he and Zucker have been discussing for the past few weeks. “For him to succeed, I believe he deserves his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff.”
More executive departures and arrivals are in the offing, CNN insiders predicted, and Zucker will likely recruit such longtime loyalists as Michael Bass, a member of Team Zucker at NBC and currently co-executive producer of Katie.
Meanwhile, CNN’s relationship with political contributor Erick Erickson has also ended; he’s jumping to Fox News. Zucker also said goodbye after 11 years to James Carville and Mary Matalin.
RBR-TVBR observation: Part of Zucker’s equation means bringing in his own team. The other part is to tweak the programming. As we’ve said before, we think a mix of right and left would be best for CNN moving forward. Yes, they can still report the news, but having a Hannity and Colmes mix at the anchor desk, providing both right-and left-perspective commentary (humorous at times) would be a way to turn things around. The recent Piers Morgan-Alex Jones face-off is a prime example.