CNN Taps 'Colbert' Producer Chris Licht to Replace Jeff Zucker

CNN chief Chris Licht
(Image credit: CBS)

Veteran producer Chris Licht will replace Jeff Zucker as CNN's top executive once parent company WarnerMedia completes its $43 billion spinoff from AT&T and merger with Discovery in April.

Updated 2/28/2022: Soon-to-be corporate overlord Discovery and its CEO, David Zaslav, made the news, leaked over the weekend, official on Monday. 

“I have known and admired Chris for more than 15 years and strongly believe he is the best person to lead CNN Global as part of Warner Bros. Discovery," Zaslav said in a statement. "Chris is a dynamic and creative producer, an engaging and thoughtful journalist, and a true news person. He has more than two decades of broadcast experience across local, cable and national news. He has been in the field, in the control room and on the set. He is a highly principled individual who is trusted, hard-working and makes every organization stronger, more innovative, and more cohesive.” 

Licht, 50, currently serves as executive producer of CBS' The Late Show with Steven Colbert, as well as VP of special programming for the erstwhile ViacomCBS. He's also credited with creating MSNBC's Morning Joe and overseeing the revamp of CBS This Morning

Licht joins CNN as it tries to regain linear ratings traction that slipped dramatically following Donald Trump's exit from the White House. CNN is also set to launch a $4.99 over-the-top service in the next few weeks. There's the merger. Oh, and Zucker, who abruptly departed in January amid "revelations" of his longtime relationship with an underling, former CMO Allison Gollust, enjoyed robust popularity and loyalty among current CNN staff. 

Licht will also oversee CNN at a key point during which its tone will be tightly scrutinized -- for example, media baron John Malone, who sits on the Discovery board, has publicly stated a desire for the news channel to adopt a more neutral, centrist public image, a position that is literally wide open in a cable news market largely ceded by channels that have evolved into propaganda networks. 

Zaslav will run the combined Warner Discovery. 

Discussing CNN during Discovery's Q4 earnings call on Thursday, Zaslav noted that, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, other cable news networks have anchors "sitting behind desks and giving their opinion about what's going on." CNN, however, is "on the ground with journalists in bulletproof vests and helmets that are doing what journalists do best, which is fight to tell the truth in dangerous places. So that we all can be safe and we can assess what's going on."

Licht's TV journalism pedigree dates back to powerful NBC O&O KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, where he worked during the all-encompassing murder trial of O.J. Simpson in the mid-1990s. He joined MSNBC in 2005 as the executive producer of the network's Scarborough Country.

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!