NEW YORK — New CNN president Rick Kaplan will seek to re-energize Cable News Network, hoping to retain its dominant position in a widening cable news race.
Kaplan’s hire was confirmed Tuesday at a press conference attended by Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin, who again called CNN a “crown jewel” of the company and said the changes marked an “evolution” of the channel, not a response to new challenges.
But CNN News Group chairman Tom Johnson acknowledged the effects of recent competitors MSNBC and Fox News Channel, as well as fewer chances to lure legions of viewers for wars and celebrity trials.
In the hot seat
“The heat’s on, and it’s a new era,” Johnson said. “We are going to do whatever it takes to compete.”
Kaplan will be responsible for all aspects of the flagship domestic news channel, from business affairs to programming and anchor talent, with the exception of CNN news star Larry King, who by contract will continue to report to Johnson.
But his major mandate is to revitalize CNN’s regular newscasts and to develop new shows that can become signature programs, Johnson said, although the emphasis remains on “hard breaking news.”
“We’re still looking for more shows that become appointment viewing, and our newscasts need more distinctive elements, so that we are more than what many have described as an electronic news wire,” he said.
CNN also continues to seek a major anchor for the main 8 p.m. newshour after candidate Tom Brokaw reupped with NBC.
But Kaplan was circumspect about his other plans, and expressed little concern over ratings slippage at the network, which was down 18% to an average 341,000 households in July.
“I generally don’t spend a lot of time analyzing ratings,” Kaplan said. “If the programming is responsive to viewers’ needs, your ratings will go up.”
Kaplan, 50, has a long history at ABC News, where he exec produced “Nightline,” helped launch “PrimeTime Live” as exec producer and then segued to “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings” before becoming exec producer for special projects at the ABC network.
His contract with ABC extended until 2000, but ABC allowed him to exercise an escape clause in advance of a September window.
In other personnel moves announced Tuesday, Johnson is upping top execs at four CNN offshoots to new prexy posts: Lou Dobbs at CNNfn, from exec VP and managing editor; Bob Furnad at CNN Headline News, from exec VP and senior exec producer; Eason Jordan at CNN Intl. and CNN en Espanol, as well as for global newsgathering operations; and Jim Walton at CNN/SI, from managing editor. Also, CNN News Group chief operating officer Steve Korn was named to the additional post of vice chairman. All five execs plus Kaplan report to Johnson.