CNN’s ‘Mad As Hell’ Moment: Can Jeff Zucker Save Cable News Without Killing It?
By Christopher Zara | December 1, 2012 8:39 AM EST
“We’ve got to remain true to the journalistic values that have always been the hallmark of CNN,” Jeff Zucker told reporters on Thursday, shortly after it was announced that has been chosen as the new president of Turner Broadcasting’s CNN Worldwide (NYSE: TWX).
On its face, the comment almost plays as if CNN’s feisty incoming chief weren’t planning a major shakeup at the world’s first cable news network, but of course nothing could be further from the truth. CNN has been battered in the ratings for so long it’s almost impossible to remember when it wasn’t eating the dust kicked up by Fox News (Nasdaq: NWSA) and MSNBC (Nasdaq: CMCSA). It suffers from an identity problem, or rather a non-identity problem: Neither right nor left, the network has tried in earnest to straddle the line of presumed neutrality, even as much of its audience has grown to see “journalistic values” as being incompatible with 24-hour cable news. And yet if it throws the baby out with the bathwater to become more like its partisan counterparts, it will only alienate what’s left of its audience. In other words, CNN needs a miracle worker, and fast.
Enter Zucker, the former wunderkind of NBCUniversal, who at the age of 26 became the youngest-ever executive producer of the “Today” show. Under his tenure, "Today" became the most watched-morning show, due in large part to Zucker's knack for personality-driven news. Before long, he climbed the later to become president and CEO of the company.
He also fell from grace just as fast, ousted after the disastrous decision to move Jay Leno to the 10 p.m. time slot when Conan O’Brien took his place at “The Tonight Show.” Now, at the age of 47, seasoned and scuffed up, he’s taking on the challenge of turning CNN around, and some analysts think he’s the best man -- if not the only man -- for the job.
“Zucker’s successful ‘Today Show’ tenure was marked by the balance of likeable personalities with a credible hard-news presentation, which we think is a formula CNN could use,” wrote Tim Nollen, an analyst with Macquarie, in a research note on Wednesday. “A successful turnaround would help CNN join sister networks TBS and TNT in reviving Turner’s ratings.”
But while CNN needs a shake up, it needs a measured one if it wants to retain what might be its biggest asset: credibility. In polls, it is often cited as the most trusted of the cable news networks in times of major news events, and ratings reflect that. Viewership spiked during CNN’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy and the Israel-Gaza conflict, while primetime commentators Piers Morgan and Erin Burnett have recently been logging some of their highest ratings ever.
Tom Johnson, the former CNN president who led the network during its 1990s heyday, told Bloomberg Businessweek that he would like to see CNN position itself against its competitors not through bigger personalities, but via more breaking news and investigative journalism, perhaps even becoming a kind of “New York Times of TV news.” However, he added that there is a “kick-ass mentality” to Zucker that could be very good for the network.
Zucker, meanwhile, has boldly promised not just to retool CNN, but to redefine the definition of cable news completely. In January, when he takes over for longtime president Jim Walton, he will almost instantly begin implementing new ideas -- perhaps even reality shows and other non-news programming, as some reports have suggested. “We need new and fresh programs,” Zucker told reporters on Thursday. “We need to improve the already good stuff we’ve got, and we need to find new programs that will make everything better.”
Will everything really be better, or just different? That remains to be seen.
To contact the editor, e-mail:
Most Popular Slideshows
- Real Life ‘Frozen’: Snow Overwhelms The US, Kills 7; More To Come (Pictures)
- Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt in Sydney for ‘Unbroken’ Red Carpet Premiere [PHOTOS]
- ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5, Episode 8 Spoilers: Daryl Dixon Is Set To Burn The Place Down in ‘Coda’
- G20 Summit Awkward Moments: Putin Yawns, Mystery Bubbles Appear, F18 Drama Ensues
Join the Conversation
- The Burka Avenger Educates Children While Fighting For Girls' Education Rights In New Pakistan TV Show
- Christopher Walken To Play Mob Boss In Film Adaptation Of Four Seasons Musical 'Jersey Boys'
- William Cantrell Mistakes Human Ashes For Cocaine, May Have Snorted Remains
- Giant Alligator Eats 80-Pound Dog In North Carolina, Gator May Still Be Alive
- Steve McQueen's Last Ride, 1952 Custom Chevy Pickup Truck, Hits The Auction Block
- Walmart Early Price Matching Special Event On Nov. 21, 2014 Matches Its Competitors' Black Friday 2014 Prices And Includes Exclusive Deals For Samsung LED HDTVs And iPad Air 2 [WATCH VIDEO]
- US Plane Flying Over Russian Skies Spotted; Vladimir Putin Ready For 'Practical Cooperation' With US
- Alleged 'Microsoft Lumia 1030' Front Panel Leaked With Capacitive Buttons; 'Xbox One' Owners To Get Free Goodies On Anniversary
- Nexus 6 Release Date And Price Under AT&T, T-Mobile And Sprint Listed
- Walmart Pre-Black Friday 2014 Sale On Nov. 21, 2014 Includes Discounts On The 'NBA 2K15' For PS4 And The 'Skylanders Trap Team’ Starter Kit [WATCH VIDEO]
- Black Friday 2014 Sale: Top Deals On Game Consoles Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Wii U And More
- Cold War 2: Russia, China And North Korea’s Blacklisted Company Fortify Alliance -- Reports