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Ken Jautz is moving from HLN to CNN to run the network as executive vp after the departure of longtime CNN president Jonathan Klein. Jautz on Friday talked to THR business editor Georg Szalai about his biggest challenge — boosting primetime ratings — the importance of personalities and how TV news can be serious yet entertaining.
The Hollywood Reporter: What has been the biggest problem for CNN, and how do you fix it?
Ken Jautz: The biggest issue is to improve our primetime ratings. We need to make our primetime more compelling and engaging, sometimes more fun, you could even say. We are going to adhere to our basic programming strategy of nonpartisan information inclusive of all different points of view. But we need to be livelier and more engaging. Addressing that issue will be my focus. Addressing that with the launch of the two new shows that we have already announced — “Parker Spitzer” on Oct. 4 and Piers Morgan [as Larry King’s replacement] after the turn of the year. We think they will be a big improvement to our primetime.
THR: One strategy that news networks have used to make things livelier are opinionated pundits. Any plan to add such personalities?
Jautz: By the time you get to primetime, in today’s media environment, there are so many websites and outlets, people know basic facts. In addition to facts, they want analysis, they want context, they want perspective and they want some opinion. And yes, I think we should provide them with as many points of view as possible, but we should provide them from all different ends of the political spectrum and from newsmakers as well as pundits. As long as we continue to be smart and insightful and informed in our reporting and analysis, that will differentiate us.
THR: Any personalities you would particularly like to see on air — whether as pundits or newsmakers?
Jautz: I do have three personalities in mind [Parker, Spitzer, Morgan], and I am focusing in the coming weeks and months on those three. I have been involved in helping get these to air and brought a lot of other shows to air. They are personalities and will have a big impact on our primetime lineup and improve it.
THR: How important is Anderson Cooper to the CNN lineup and brand?
Jautz: Extremely. Anderson Cooper is the standard bearer for the type of journalism that CNN has become famous for and that we want to continue to be known for. One of the most memorable stories this year was Haiti, and nobody covered it as comprehensively as CNN, and nobody did as brilliant a job while covering it as Anderson Cooper or Sanjay Gupta and their teams.
THR: Any other favorite shows on CNN that are good examples for what you’re looking for?
Jautz: I was just named head of this network. This is like saying which kid do you like better. I can’t do that.
THR: Any interest in bringing in Katie Couric?
Jautz: Like I said, I am really focused on these three personalities and two shows and I don’t have any other announcements — be it shows or people — beyond that.
THR: How much do you watch Fox News, and do you see any vulnerabilities that would allow you to catch up in the ratings?
Jautz: This early in the game, it would probably be smarter for me to talk about our own programs rather than other people’s programs. But yes, I do watch a lot of other cable news shows.
THR: Your boss, CNN worldwide president Jim Walton, said today that “entertaining” is not necessarily a bad word when it comes to news. How do you strike the balance between serious and fun factors?
Jautz: It is a matter in which you present things. You have hosts who are smart and insightful and informative but also passionate and engaging and who are good communicators. Piers Morgan, all three of the [new] guys, are excellent communicators, they are passionate about their points of view and excellent in discussing their point of view. A large part is about showcasing the right talent in the best possible manner so they can show their strength.
THR: HLN skews younger and more female. Talk a bit about how much you can bring some of that to CNN and whether there would be a risk of brand confusion.
Jautz: My mandate at HLN was to create a network distinct and different from CNN. We purposefully made HLN much more pop culture-oriented than CNN and tried to establish its identity as something different. [It also skews more female.] And I think we have successfully done that. We have distinct audiences, advertisers as well. I do not think there is a danger of blending the brands, so to speak. But yes, we have made sure that the presentation of information on HLN is done a lively and passionate manner. And there are ways that we can make CNN shows in primetime more lively and passionate and engaging in the presentation.
THR: But target demos for the two networks will remain different?
Jautz: The two are different and we want to keep it that way.
THR: Do you have a target for how much primetime ratings must improve? What would you consider a success?
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