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Jeff Zucker to Leave CNN at the End of 2021

CNN Jeff Zucker
Jeff Zucker is staying with CNN until his contract expires at the end of the year. (Image credit: CNN)

CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker said he plans to stay at the news network through the end of 2021, when his contract expires, according to published reports.

Some earlier stories had indicated that Zucker was having differences with his bosses at AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit and was considering leaving earlier.

“I cannot imagine not being here right now,” Zucker told staffers on a phone call Thursday morning, according to The New York Times. “I’m going to stay and finish my current contract, which, as I said, will keep me here until the end of this year. At that point, I do expect to move on.”

 A CNN rep confirmed the news and provided a transcript of the call.

“I have some news to share and this time it's about me,” Zucker said according to the transcript. “I really hate that I have become the focus of some intrigue, and I hate it because we have so much more important news to cover. But I know that I have owed this organization an answer about my own future, and so it is time to put the speculation to rest. So here’s the deal: I am gonna stay at CNN through the end of this year.”

He added: “I am going to stay and finish my current contract – which, as I said, will keep me here until the end of this year. At that point, I do expect to move on. But that is almost a year from now. That’s a long time.” 

Zucker also heads WarnerMedia's Turner Sports unit.

“It’s great to have Jeff steering all things CNN in 2021, said WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. "The impact that Jeff has had on CNN is remarkable under any definition. And I believe that 2021 is going to go down as a milestone year in CNN’s 40 year history given all that is planned. As I’ve said before, in my opinion the two best things to happen to CNN have been Ted Turner and Jeff Zucker.”

Also Read: WarnerMedia Restructures under Kilar; Greenblatt and Riley Out

The pandemic and presidential elections drove new ratings to record levels during 2020 and after Donald Trump was defeated, 

CNN had its best month ever in January, topping Fox for the first time in years amid the riot at the Capitol and the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Zucker was named president of CNN Worldwide in 2013. He received criticism for giving Donald Trump a great deal of airtime leading up to and continuing during his presidential campaign.

Zucker was CEO of the NBCUniversal Television Group until Comcast acquired NBCU, when he was replaced by Steve Burke in 2010. 

AT NBCU Zucker was in charge when NBC tried to replace Tonight Show host Jay Leno with Conan O’Brien. He then gave Jay Leno a nightly hour of primetime on NBC. When that flopped, he returned Leno to the Tonight Show, dropping O’Brien.

Zucker started out at NBC as a researcher in for its Olympics coverage, but quickly became a wunderkind within its news division, quickly becoming the executive producer of the Tonight Show. In 2000 he became head of NBC Entertainment and as the network fell from its “must-see” TV dominance. He continued to be promoted at NBCU eventually becoming CEO.

Here is a transcript of what Zucker said at the beginning of his  call with CNN staffers Thursday  morning, as provided by CNN:

Before we get started this morning, I have some news to share and this time it's about me. 

I really hate that I have become the focus of some intrigue, and I hate it because we have so much more important news to cover. But I know that I have owed this organization an answer about my own future, and so it is time to put the speculation to rest.

So here’s the deal: I am gonna stay at CNN through the end of this year.

I cannot imagine not being here right now. I have this incredible seat in the very front row of history every day. I work with the best people in the business. As we have noted, multiple times, CNN has never been stronger -- and that is something I am incredibly proud of. We have come a very long way in the past eight years. We have challenges ahead, for sure - but we could not be better positioned to meet them. The future is bright with tremendous opportunity, and I want to put all the right pieces into place to make sure that CNN remains strong for many years to come. And, as we know, we have been doing our daily meetings this way for nearly a year. This organization has been thru a lot. I'd like to be here to get us all back to a new normal, one that feels much more like it once did around here. 

So, as a result, I am going to stay and finish my current contract – which, as I said, will keep me here until the end of this year. At that point, I do expect to move on. But that is almost a year from now. That’s a long time. Think back to how much has happened in the last year and how much we have accomplished together in the PAST year. So I'm not at all focused on the end -- I'm focused on the now. Today, next week, next month, the next three months, and beyond. 

Look, I do get it. Some of you will hear what I'm saying as an announcement that I am leaving. That is truly not the way I see it. The truth is, back in November and December, I had basically decided that it was time to move on now. But since then, I've had a change of heart. And I want to stay. Not forever, but for another year. And I feel really good about this decision.

My hope is that you will see this as good news, too, and focus on the fact that we get another year together.

So there you have it. Now we can get on with the business at hand. As I said, we've got a lot to do. And there is a lot going on.

So let’s begin with the most awkward transition ever on this 9 a.m. call, and start with Virginia.