CNN Boss Talks Programming, ‘Objective’ Nature of Network

Topper predicts more of the same ahead - but different, as mobile gets some of the attention paid to TV ops

Jeff Zucker

CNN topper Jeff Zucker’s plans for the network might be summed up by the following: Everything needs to change, but much of it is going to remain the same.

In a brief but wide-ranging interview at a summit held by Fortune magazine Tuesday, the CNN Worldwide president indicated that the cable-news network would put much of its near-term focus on both mobile assets as well as its primetime television lineup. At the same time, the executive said he was mindful of the revenue generated by CNN’s TV operations and suggested the network would strive for objectivity in its news presentation, so long as doing so wasn’t dull.

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His remarks come as CNN’s programming lineup has begun to change noticeably, with the network placing more emphasis on documentary series on weekends and delving more deeply into shallower topics, such as a stranded cruise ship or kooky animal videos.

“What I want CNN to be about is all of the news, and all of the news is not just what’s happening in Washington or in the Middle East, but it’s also about entertainment and business and sports and culture and thing that we all talk about,” Zucker said. He told the audience he dismissed an old CNN slogan that told viewers “CNN = Politics,” because he wanted viewers to turn to the network for more than a single topic.

Mobile media is gaining more importance at CNN, he said – a notion bolstered by studying how audiences used CNN information during the recent Boston Marathon bombing as well as Monday’s news about the birth of an heir to the throne in England. “We’re not going to care what screen you’re watching CNN on as long as there’s a CNN red logo on whatever asset you’re using to access us,” said Zucker.

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Even so, he was mindful of the importance of securing revenue from CNN’s distributors. “The most important thing is for us to be essential enough” to cable, satellite and telecom companies who deliver CNN to their subscribers, he said.

CNN intends to put some focus on its 10 p.m. hour in primetime, said Zucker. “We have not had a regular 10 p.m. show,” he said, noting that 10 p.m. has been used recently for a repeat of Anderson Cooper’s 8 p.m. program or some live shows featuring the anchor. “It’s obviously something we’re going to work on.”

Despite the announcement that CNN has hired noted Republican Newt Gingrich as part of its new team for a revived “Crossfire,” Zucker stated he saw value in the network staying objective in its presentation of news and opinion. The idea that CNN “didn’t have enough conservative points of view was probably a valid criticism,” the executive said, though he does not expect CNN to lose abandon its positioning as a down-the-middle presenter of news.

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Fox News Channel and MSNBC have both chosen more partisan presentations in their lineup, he said, which “does leave room for somebody to be objective, and that’s the path we’ve chosen.”

Still, said the exec best known, perhaps, for his love of programming stunts like moving Jay Leno to primetime or “super-sizing” episodes of “Friends” while at NBC, “just because you’re objective doesn’t mean you need to be boring.”