Zucker made his remarks at a lunch in Los Angeles promoting upcoming CNN Films documentaries, which he called one of the three foundational components of the network’s lineup, along with breaking news and the regular series that have become an increasing part of its mix.
The CNN chief stressed that there were no imminent plans to order scripted movies, and acknowledged that “some people would find it odd” to see such fare on the news network. Still, he said in response to a question, “I would not be opposed to that.”
CNN would hardly be the first network to bend its format to accommodate scripted fare. History, for example, broke from its niche first with unscripted series and eventually with miniseries, movies and even scripted dramatic series, such as “Vikings.” In addition, Fox News Channel did experiment back in 2007 with a satirical news program, “The 1/2 Hour News Hour,” which was quickly canceled.
CNN has expanded its presence in documentary-style series primarily as a hedge against the vagaries of the news cycle. Even so, as Zucker noted, introducing dramatic programming would likely invite criticism of the channel — already a lightning rod — in terms of potentially diluting its news brand.
Thus far, CNN Films has made noise with a roughly equal combination of acquisitions and commissioned documentaries, among them “Blackfish,” which chronicled the behavior of killer whales in captivity. The network has made its push during a boom time for documentaries, with players like Netflix and Showtime becoming aggressive in that area, where HBO has long been a dominant player.
Despite the glut of competition, Zucker noted CNN is particularly well positioned to support documentary films by engaging in further conversations about them through its “shoulder programming,” either via interviews on other CNN programs or in the digital space.
Upcoming titles that will air on CNN include “Life Itself,” director Steve James’ look at critic Roger Ebert; “Ivory Tower,” Andrew Rossi’s examination of the university system; and “Dinosaur 13,” filmmaker Todd Miller’s look at the controversy over a fossil discovery.
CNN also announced that it’s partnering with the Weinstein Co.’s Radius on an untitled film about sexual assaults on college campuses, directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering.