Chris Licht may not have been the hottest celebrity sighting at Monday’s “Succession” Season 4 premiere — we’d go with Matthew Broderick supporting his “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” buddy Alan Ruck, aka Connor Roy — but he may have been the attendee on media’s hottest seat.
The screening and after-party for the final season of HBO’s brilliant media-empire drama was a thing of beauty. For starters, Episode 401 — the one we got to watch on Jazz at Lincoln Center’s big screen — was terrific. Read IndieWire’s review here. A jazz ensemble set the mood as we waited for fashionably late episode introductions from HBO boss Casey Bloys and “Succession” creator Jesse Armstrong. The blue-and-white branded M&Ms, the popcorn, and water bottles took the edge off.
All 26 cast members took a bow and received a semi-standing ovation. Then, we put our cell phones in flimsy “Succession”-branded clear plastic bags with no actual security features and the iconic opening credits rolled. (The event was “cocktail attire is encouraged,” so perhaps they thought nobody had pockets.)
At the afterparty overlooking Columbus Circle, with its massive 4,500 square-foot wall of windows, specialty cocktails were the “F*ck Off” (rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and cocktail cherries) and “The Checkmate” (tequila, triple sec, ginger syrup, lemon juice, and Angostura bitters). Any remaining edge was taken off by those; it was all so perfectly “Succession.”
Adjacent to the Ertegun Atrium, not far from the sushi, caviar cones, and other tiny foods, there was Licht. It’s not unusual to see Licht at an HBO party. His CNN brand is part of Warner Bros. Discovery; you could see his New York City office from the bar. In a light suit and no tie, Licht was all smiles as he chatted up fellow guests, including Bloys and Katie Couric. Not at the party was Licht’s boss, WBD CEO David Zaslav. That’s also not unusual, although he did attend the same bash last year at the Museum of Natural History NYC.
Licht appeared to be in good spirits, despite a March 13 Page Six report that he may not (or may!) have a job in a few months. To be fair to Licht and risk being slightly unfair to Page Six, it was a vaguely sourced story hinging on internal “whispers” about his job security — or lack thereof — with “insiders” presenting cases for the former Stephen Colbert producer either staying or going.
On the presented notion that Licht may be gone before Labor Day, a CNN spokesperson told IndieWire Tuesday: “Time will prove that rumor ill-informed and the story false.”
Still, it’s not exactly giving credence to conspiracy theories to acknowledge that Licht is under the 100x lens of the microscope. CNN was in trouble before the WarnerMedia and Discovery merger, and before Zaslav hired Licht to return the left-leaning cable-news network fka known as Cable News Network to its glory days of unbiased news reporting. It’s kind to say that the turnaround still leaves something to be desired.
From March 13-19, CNN suffered its lowest-rated week among adults 25-54 (the key demographic for news programming) in more than 30 years, averaging just 84,000 viewers from the demo in primetime, according to Nielsen. These days, even MSNBC beats CNN in that metric.
Two days after the Page Six report, the New York Post proper (Page Six is the gossip portion of the Post) wrote that Zaslav again defended Licht at a town hall with roughly 600 CNN staffers attending. IndieWire obtained a transcript of the town hall.
“There’s not a playbook for Chris’ job. He’s gotten a lot wrong. We’ve gotten a lot wrong. That’s how it works,” Zaslav said. “We’re all flawed. We are trying to figure out what is best for CNN.
“It’s a moment for Chris. And I know it’s a moment for you — for all of us that have shared a mission,” he added.
Here, we should point out that the New York Post is a conservative-leaning publication owned by News Corp, which is the Murdoch-controlled mass media and publishing company that used to be (and almost was once again) paired with Fox News. The paper’s sniping — and Zaslav’s full-throated defense — created oddly familiar drama.
Maybe someone should make a show about it.