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Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN and head of WarnerMedia news and sports, will continue in that role through the end of 2021.
Zucker said on CNN’s morning editorial call that he will remain with the company through the end of his current contract, which runs through 2021, a CNN staffer who was on the call tells The Hollywood Reporter. Zucker added that he does expect to leave the company at the end of this year after his contract is up.
Rumors of tension between Zucker and WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar percolated in 2020, raising the possibility that he could leave early, but Kilar told The New York Times‘ Kara Swisher in December that “the two best things that ever happened to CNN were Ted Turner and Jeff Zucker.”
On the call Thursday, Zucker acknowledged that tension, telling staff, “The truth is, back in November and December I had basically decided that it was time to move on,” but added that he decided to continue in his role for now.
Said Kilar in a statement to THR, “It’s great to have Jeff steering all things CNN in 2021. The impact that Jeff has had on CNN is remarkable under any definition. And I believe that 2021 is going to go down as a milestone year in CNN’s 40-year history given all that is planned. As I’ve said before, in my opinion the two best things to happen to CNN have been Ted Turner and Jeff Zucker.”
Still, when Zucker does leave CNN, it will mark the end of an era for the venerable cable news network.
CNN saw a ratings revival ever since Donald Trump became president, and its position has only grown stronger post-election, winning the January ratings race outright against Fox News and MSNBC for the first time in years. His decision to stick around (at least for now) means that he will oversee CNN as it begins to pivot both in is coverage (to reflect a Biden presidency that may lend itself to fewer bombastic storylines), and in its business, with Kilar pushing for a focus on streaming and deemphasizing traditional cable TV.
Zucker joined CNN as its president in November 2012, and immediately made his mark at the cable news giant by taking a hands-on approach to its programming, going so far as to suggest questions for anchors through their earpieces while they were in the middle of conducting interviews. He began leading, and continues to lead most days, CNN’s daily editorial calls himself.
He opted out of taking a large office on the executive floor of Time Warner Center in New York, instead choosing a more modest office on the fifth floor, located directly off the main CNN newsroom. Across from his desk was a wall covered with 11 TV monitors, showing CNN, HLN, CNN International, MSNBC, Fox News and other channels, as well as a screen showing CNN.com’s homepage, all so he could keep track of what stories were being covered both on TV and digitally.
One CNN on-air reporter tells THR that Zucker’s management approach inspired fierce loyalty from many reporters and anchors, especially those he championed and gave new opportunities, while even veteran anchors who predated his arrival grew to respect him.
Zucker added oversight of Turner Sports in March 2019 after AT&T acquired the company. The company has NBA and MLB rights, as well as NCAA March Madness basketball rights.
His job at CNN was something of a professional reset for Zucker, who had until that point spent almost his entire career at NBCUniversal, ultimately serving as its CEO until Comcast acquired the company from General Electric in 2011.
Zucker began his NBC career as a researcher for the 1988 Olympics, before joining the Today show as a producer. He was elevated to become executive producer of the morning show in 1992, when he was only 26 years old. He would go on to be named NBC’s entertainment president (where he famously ordered The Apprentice to series), and eventually became CEO of NBCUniversal’s global TV business, before being named president and CEO of the entire company in 2007.
When he joined CNN, he told friends he was excited to return to a news role, though his first year at CNN was spent trying to expand the channel’s footprint in the entertainment world, by ordering shows like Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.
Updated 11:50 AM with a statement from Jason Kilar.
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