New CNN boss Ken Jautz wants to add some sizzle to the cable news net. But the stakes have never been higher.
The Turner network’s ratings have long been slipping, leading to a dramatic primetime makeover that begins next month with the launch of 8 p.m. newscast “Parker Spitzer,” followed in January by the introduction of Larry King replacement Piers Morgan.
The architect of that new lineup, however, won’t be there to see it through. CNN U.S. prexy Jon Klein got the ax on Friday, replaced by HLN head Jautz.
Jautz boosted ratings at the CNN sister net, once known as Headline News, thanks to hosts including Nancy Grace and Joy Behar. Now, CNN Worldwide prexy Jim Walton hopes Jautz can work that same magic with the mothership.
“We do have to be more engaging and lively and more fun, frankly,” Jautz told Daily Variety. “We think that these two shows will make a great improvement. And of course if you improve the programming, you improve the ratings, and we do have a ratings challenge at CNN.”
Jautz also will be careful not to blend the two networks’ styles: one of his main accomplishments at his old post was differentiating the CNN and HLN brands in the first place.
Besides the Oct. 4 bow of “Parker Spitzer” and the creation of Morgan’s new show, Jautz will be focused on CNN’s coverage of the mid-term elections.
Walton said that another of Jautz’s attractions was that he brought viewers to HLN “who wouldn’t cannibalize the CNN network.” In fact, one of Jautz’s early HLN stars, Glenn Beck, went on to superstardom at rival Fox News.
In firing Klein after six years at the troubled cable news network, Walton said, “We’re clearly not satisfied with the ratings.”
As part of the new setup, Jautz becomes exec VP (rather than president, which was Klein’s title) of CNN U.S. Scott Safon, CNN Worldwide’s chief marketing officer, will be exec VP of HLN. And the cabler will create a new position, exec VP and managing editor of CNN Worldwide, who will oversee coverage across CNN’s many platforms.
Turner CEO Phil Kent made a point of supporting the choice to seek out a new exec in a brief statement on the shakeup.
Jautz, Safon and the unnamed new editor will all report to Walton.
To industryites, the new lineup appeared to rep Klein’s last chance with Turner brass, but his departure signals otherwise.
When asked why Klein left before the start of the primetime lineup, Walton said, “We thought it was very important to make the moves before we launched the programs so that we didn’t appear to show any dissatisfaction with those shows.” In other words, Klein was already on his way out.
CNN’s numbers have been in serious decline for most of 2010, when the net saw several embarrassing milestones: worst single month in history (February, when it dropped behind even HLN), worst quarter ever for both “Larry King Live” and “Campbell Brown” (second quarter), and Brown’s abrupt resignation.
Walton declined to elaborate on axing Klein, saying only that he “had a conversation earlier this week” with him.
Klein was less circumspect. He he told one interviewer “people get shot in this business; I got shot” and said to another that Walton “told me they wanted to restructure things this way, and thank you very much, and good luck.”
Talking to reporters, Walton had nothing but praise for Klein and also played up CNN Worldwide’s financial successes in arenas besides the org’s flagship network, noting that CNN U.S.’s ad sales account for less than 10% of CNN Worldwide’s revenue.
“CNN is not broken,” Walton said.
(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)