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New CNN Head Chris Licht Explains Plans for Network

CNN chief Chris Licht at 2022 WBD upfront
CNN CEO Chris Licht at the 2022 Warner Bros. Discovery upfront in New York. (Image credit: Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery)

Without mentioning CNN Plus, new CNN CEO Chris Licht set out the company’s plans for the rudderless news network.

Those plans involve a morning show, a Sunday-night showcase and avoiding the kinds of advocacy journalism that has infected cable news.

CNN was shocked by the sudden firing of its president Jeff Zucker because of an undisclosed relationship with another CNN executive and by the abrupt decision to shut down streaming subscription service CNN Plus after just 33 days.

New owner Warner Bros. Discovery hired Licht, who had been executive producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, to fix the original cable news network.

“When [WBD CEO] David Zaslav put me in this role. He gave me one simple directive: enhance CNN's leadership as the definitive source for reliable news and exceptional, journalism globally,” Licht said at Warner Bros. Discovery’s upfront Wednesday

Invoking CNN founder Ted Turner (who was name-checked far more often than Discovery founder John Hendricks or the Warner brothers), Licht said CNN’s original mission is still evident today.  

Upfronts 2022: Click Here for Complete Coverage

“This organization is unrivaled in its fact-driven coverage, its ability to gather and report news where it happens and its commitment to telling meaningful stories about our people and events in our world,” Licht said. 

“The next chapter of CNN is one where we aspire to be a beacon for the kind of journalism essential to a functioning democracy,” he said.

Licht pushed back at the notion that CNN is or wants to be a liberal news organization. 

“At a time where the extremes are dominating cable news, we will seek to go a different way, reflecting the real lives of our viewers and elevating the way America, and the world, views this medium,” he said. “We intend to challenge the traditional philosophy of cable news, delivering programming and commentary that questions the status quo, shatters groupthink, holds, our leaders on both sides of the aisle accountable to facts and fights fearlessly to get to the truth.”

Licht said CNN would be making changes in its morning show. “We are seeking to be a disrupter of the broadcast morning shows in this space and we believe we have the people and resources who can do it,” he said.

He also plans to establish a CNN Sunday franchise that will feature Chris Wallace’s interview show, retrieved from the CNN Plus scrapheap, and a new “topical long-form" show, which will showcase our existing correspondents and contributors “telling new stories they enterprise from around the world.”  He wants the show to become an “exciting outlet for the stories that can have real impact and blister the CNN brand.”

Who's Talking to Chris Wallace and the new long-form show will be joined by existing CNN originals like Stanley Tucci's Search for Italy; Say It Loud, about the history of Black television from LeBron James and Maverick Carter; and The 2010s, as wells as CNN Films.

Licht said CNN will also be increasing its production of documentaries. He’s aiming to make high-end, quick-turn topical hours that can “capitalize on audience interest in major news and cultural events."

And despite the demise of its streaming service, CNN remains a big digital player.

“CNN is the No. 1 digital property in the world,” Licht said. “That’s right, the No. 1 news platform globally, and we are already putting significantly more resources into increasing user engagement through innovations and tech that will allow us to maintain our excellence and dominance in that space.” ■

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.