Veteran TV exec Jeff Zucker spent over two decades at NBC, starting as a researcher in 1986 and ending as the President and CEO of NBC Universal before he left in 2010 amid the network’s merger with Comcast.
After a stint producing Katie Couric’s new daytime talk show, he was announced in November 2012 as the new president of the ratings-challenged CNN, with his run to begin Jan. 1. So far, he’s set in motion a flurry of changes, according to the Wall Street Journal, that appears to threaten the morning gig of longtime CNN contributor Soledad O’Brien.
Aside from confirming the departure of CNN’s managing editor Mark Whitaker’s departure, CNN said Tuesday that it had hired Chris Cuomo for a “major role in a new CNN morning show,” expected to be launched this spring. He is the third reporter that Zucker has poached from ABC News or its cable sibling, ESPN, since coming on board. ABC and ESPN are both owned by the Walt Disney Co.
O’Brien, who anchors CNN’s current low-rated morning show, will remain at CNN, reports the Wall Street Journal, and is in discussion about her future role, according to a CNN spokeswoman.
CNN is also overhauling its lineup of political pundits, with the departure of be the husband-and-wife team of political commentators, James Carville and Mary Matalin, CNN confirmed. Conservative commentator Erick Erickson also confirmed on his blog that he was also moving on from CNN.
Whitaker, a former Newsweek editor and NBC News executive who had been at CNN since 2011, was regarded as a champion of international reporting.
Under Whitaker, there was a belief that CNN should differentiate itself from the cable news pack by focusing on the one thing it could do that its rivals couldn’t: deliver hard news, instantly, from anywhere in the world.
But CNN in the past couple of years has fallen further behind its more opinionated rivals, Comcast Corp.’s MSNBC and News Corp’s Fox News Channel, in prime-time ratings.
Current and former CNN employees believe Whitaker’s departure, combined with the recent hires, signals that Zucker is looking to pull back CNN’s international reporting somewhat and focus more on the kinds of stories that Americans are talking about on any given day.
“News is about more than just politics and war,” Zucker told reporters in November when he was named for the CNN job. “In order to stay relevant in the times when there is not breaking news, we have to understand that news can be defined in different ways.”
Zucker, who has a background in news as the former longtime executive producer of NBC News’ “Today” show, will take over the editorial functions formerly handled by Whitaker.