'Colbert' producer Chris Licht is set to lead CNN

Chris Licht, a veteran TV producer who helped create “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and then successfully revamped morning and late-night progra...


Chris Licht, a veteran TV producer who helped create “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and then successfully revamped morning and late-night programming at CBS, is set to be CNN’s next executive, according to three people with direct knowledge of the decision.

Mr Licht, 50, who is currently the executive producer of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”, is set to succeed Jeff Zucker, the CNN chairman whose nine-year term ended abruptly this month when he quit over an undisclosed romance with a colleague.

He is expected to join the network once its parent company, WarnerMedia, completes a merger with Discovery Inc., a deal that could close by April. Mr. Licht and David Zaslav, the managing director of Discovery, are business and social friends who have known each other for more than a decade.

Discussions between Mr. Licht and Mr. Zaslav began shortly after Mr. Zucker left and accelerated over the past two weeks, one of the people said. An official announcement is expected next week. Puck first reported the news of Mr. Licht’s selection.

Overseeing CNN — a sprawling news organization with a global footprint, thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue — would be by far the biggest undertaking of Mr. Licht’s television career. And he joins the network at a time of turmoil.

Its newsroom was troubled by Mr Zucker’s stunning exit, which sparked deep loyalty among presenters and correspondents. Its primetime and morning ratings have bogged down to third place behind rivals Fox News and MSNBC. And Discovery’s impending takeover has raised questions about the network’s future direction.

Mr. Licht is co-creator of “Morning Joe,” the wildly successful MSNBC franchise that still dominates that network’s morning lineup. He jumped onto CBS News in 2011, where he was widely credited with reversing the fortunes of “CBS This Morning,” adding hosts Charlie Rose and Gayle King and introducing a chattier, freer format.

In 2016, CBS tapped Mr. Licht to take over “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” which had struggled in its first few months to secure viewers and the critical praise Mr. Colbert’s predecessor enjoyed. , David Letterman.

Mr. Licht designed a remarkable audience turnaround, encouraging Mr. Colbert to engage more forcefully in current affairs and political news. It added live broadcasts after major news events like election night and State of the Union addresses. By 2017, Mr. Colbert had achieved something Mr. Letterman had rarely done in his long career: beat NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in the ratings, a winning streak that continues five years later.

Late-night comedy is a different challenge from a global network the scale of CNN.

The channel currently has dozens of reporters on the ground in Ukraine covering the Russian invasion. There are only weeks left before the launch of a new digital subscription service, CNN+, a late entry into the newsfeed wars the network has spent tens of millions of dollars on. Mr Zucker’s exit was also followed by forced resignation of his romantic partner, Allison Gollust, who served as CNN’s chief communications and marketing officer.

Under Mr. Zucker, the channel’s programming shifted into more partisan territory, in part because of the scathing attacks it faced from then-President Donald J. Trump. Recently, John Malone, the chairman of Liberty Media, who will be a key player in Warner Bros. The soon-to-be-formed Discovery publicly lamented that CNN drifted away from its traditional media coverage.

Mr. Licht is likely to have the unconditional support of Mr. Zaslav, the managing director of Discovery. The men dine together several times a year, and Mr. Licht regularly attends Mr. Zaslav’s star-studded Labor Day weekend party in East Hampton, New York.

Mr. Licht, a graduate of Syracuse University’s SI Newhouse School of Communication (where a control room for students is named after him), began his television career in local news. He worked in Los Angeles around the time of the OJ Simpson trial and spent time in San Francisco before moving to MSNBC, where he became a producer on Joe Scarborough’s talk show.

He has a family connection to his new employer: his wife, Jenny Blanco, worked at CNN for several years as a producer for anchor Anderson Cooper and then as director of recruitment and talent development. They started dating while on assignment at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics.

James B. Stewart contributed report.

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Newsrust - US Top News: 'Colbert' producer Chris Licht is set to lead CNN
'Colbert' producer Chris Licht is set to lead CNN
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