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NEW YORK – CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker introduced several new original unscripted series fronted by familiar faces including Mike Rowe and John Walsh that will air in the 9 p.m. slot occupied for years by Larry King and then Piers Morgan. In doing so, he is officially abandoning the interview show, a staple on CNN since King debuted in 1985.
“We believe that genre is no longer viable. There are just too many outlets with not enough big gets for a pure talk show to thrive any longer,” Zucker told advertisers gathered at Chelsea’s Skylight Modern for the network’s first upfront presentation. “And just because CNN has always done a talk show at 9, it doesn’t mean that’s what we should be doing there going forward.”
CNN Films projects also will fill the 9 p.m. hour. And the Tom Hanks–Gary Goetzman miniseries The Sixties is set to debut in the 9 p.m. slot this May. Zucker told THR that he had originally planned to switch to original series last month, but breaking news – notably the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 – dictated otherwise. And he said he does not believe that interrupting series for breaking news will create a flow problem for the network.
“We’ve been doing it for the last two months,” he said, adding that breaking news brings in a much bigger audience and the hope is some percentage of those viewers return for CNN’s original series.
But he stressed that the network’s paramount mission is news. “We will always give priority to our original breaking news coverage,” he said. Viewers can expect to see Jake Tapper, Bill Weir and Wolf Blitzer presiding over breaking news coverage at 9 p.m.
And with the 2014 midterm elections looming, Zucker took the opportunity to underscore CNN’s nonpartisan approach for advertisers, a notoriously controversy-averse contingent, gathered at the upfront.
“In an increasingly polarized world, it’s hard to know whom to trust,” said Zucker from the stage. “CNN will be the only news channel that doesn’t take a side.”
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