The search to replace Jeff Zucker is over. Multiple outlets are reporting that Chris Licht, the former “Morning Joe” producer who currently runs “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” will be placed in charge of the cable network when Discovery merges with WarnerMedia later this year. Licht is expected to be named head of news for the new entity, Warner Bros. Discovery. The position will put him in command of CNN, but he will not run the conglomerate’s sports division, as Zucker did.
The move comes at a tumultuous moment for CNN after a 2021 that saw the cable network bogged down with scandals from both its on-air talent and c-suite executives. Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin was suspended for eight months for inappropriately exposing himself on a Zoom call. Primetime anchor Chris Cuomo followed that by secretly advising his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, on his sexual harassment scandal while also covering the story for CNN. Chris Cuomo was fired for the ethical breach, but the events attracted scrutiny to CNN’s journalistic standards. On top of that, CNN’s last president, Jeff Zucker, recently stepped down when it was revealed that he failed to disclose a relationship with one of his subordinates.
Licht has built a reputation as something of a turnaround artist in the world of television journalism. When he took over “CBS This Morning,” the show was a non-factor in the weekday morning television ratings competition, consistently coming in a very distant third after NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” His decision to focus the show on hard news helped it establish a niche and significantly grow its audience.
His success there prompted CBS to send him to revitalize another struggling show: “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” When Colbert took over for David Letterman in 2015, ratings were initially low. After years of playing a fictional version of himself on Comedy Central, Colbert struggled to establish himself without his fake right-wing persona. Under Licht’s leadership, the show developed the news-focused, left-leaning approach that has become its trademark. Licht ultimately led Colbert to become the most-watched host on late-night TV.
When Licht takes over CNN, his challenges will include re-establishing trust in the network after its recent series of scandals, growing the recently launched CNN+ streaming service, and covering an election cycle that could once again see Donald Trump running for president.