Jeff Zucker
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Former NBC exec also says deals with Jay Leno, Ann Curry not in the cards

CNN chief Jeff Zucker fired back at Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes on Friday, saying his understanding is that an upcoming Ailes biography “confirms what we’ve known along, which is the Republican Party is being run out of News Corp. headquarters, masquerading as a cable channel.”

Speaking at the TV Critics Assn. tour Friday, Zucker made those remarks in response to an interview Ailes had given in which he said CNN is getting out of the news business. The CNN Worldwide president countered by saying the network remained committed to news but that his goal is to “broaden the definition of offerings” on the network by including more series and documentary films, such as programs fronted by Morgan Spurlock and Anthony Bourdain, as well as the acclaimed documentary “Blackfish.”

Zucker dismissed Ailes’ criticism as “meant to deflect your attention from the book this week” and “silly.” Prior to the session, Zucker also told Variety that CNN would cover the Ailes book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” by Gabriel Sherman, calling it a legitimate news story given the implications of the role Fox News plays in relationship to the Republican Party and national politics.

Of course, any coverage on CNN or MSNBC of the Ailes book will almost surely be derided as sour grapes by Ailes and his allies, who have been mounting a pushback campaign against the book and Sherman prior to its release later this month.

On other fronts, Zucker threw cold water on speculation that he might try to jump-start the news channel’s ratings by hiring a soon to be out of work Jay Leno. Zucker said latenight is “not a priority” at this time, adding, “Obviously, I have a long relationship with Jay, I think he’s a terrific talent.” He also noted that another NBC veteran, Ann Curry, is not available, suggesting that virtually everyone he ever worked with in the past was inevitably subject to conjecture about a move to CNN.

Zucker has augmented the network’s lineup with three significant hires from ABC News — Jake Tapper, Chris Cuomo and Bill Weir — but the network’s ratings and the changes already made under Zucker have fueled speculation about a broader shakeup of the primetime roster.

Before his direct rejoinder to Ailes, Zucker referred to rivals Fox News and MSNBC as “two partisan networks, that are looking out for their viewers.” He suggested, as the network long has, that CNN can occupy a neutral middle ground.

A year into Zucker’s stint as CNN president, media outlets have been taking inventory of where the network stands, and the progress, or lack thereof, under his stewardship.

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