CNN+ is gone, but some of the big-name anchors who were hired for the service appear to be sticking around for a while.
Chris Licht, the new chairman and CEO at the Warner Bros. Discovery news operation, gave indications at a town hall meeting on Thursday that he intended to find places for some of the popular names that were lured to the company with the promise of new programs for CNN.+ The subscription-based streaming service was scuttled abruptly by the company’s new parent after it completed its acquisition of WarnerMedia from AT&T. Three people familiar with the conversations at the meeting said Licht indicated he wanted to find places for Chris Wallace, the one-time Fox News anchor, and Audie Cornish, the NPR veteran, appearing in parts of the company’s portfolio. He also said Kasie Hunt, who was hired from NBC News, has been appearing in current CNN programming.
CNN declined to make executives available for comment.
Licht’s words suggest that parts of CNN+ will live on, even if Warner Bros. Discovery found its business model unworkable. The service ended on April 28, barely a month into its nascent existence. People familiar with the talent deals related to the streaming service said many of the anchors who came aboard did so as part of deals that related to them doing work for all of CNN, not pacts that were contingent only on having a program on CNN+. One of these people said CNN has promised to find places on its linear network or in its digital portfolio for many of the new talent, and is expected to pay out their contracts if it cannot. It’s not clear that those conditions apply to the CNN anchors and correspondents who took on new duties at CNN+, though there is word that executives are considering ways to keep some of their new programs going as well.
There are plenty of CNN+ personalities who were not named during the town hall, including business professor Scott Galloway, or sports and culture commentators Jemele Hill and Cari Champion. CNN may even be on the hook for other content and talent deals for CNN+ that had yet to be announced, according to one person familiar with the situation.
People familiar with CNN say Licht has, in his early days at the company, cut a different figure than his predecessor, Jeff Zucker. Zucker kept an office in the middle of the CNN newsroom, and weighed in on even the smallest facets of programming. Staffers felt he was accessible to them. Licht has taken up an office several floors above the newsroom and hired a new chief financial officer and chief of staff, and has told staffers he doesn’t intend to get into the weeds of production. There is some sentiment within CNN that the new chief wants to be able to hold meetings about CNN’s future without the broad part of the editorial team watching who is filing in and out of his office.
Meanwhile, Licht also told employees of two areas he’s already scrutinizing. He expressed an interest in meeting with Eric Hall, the CNN producer who oversees the network’s “New Day” morning program, to examine what might be done with the program. Licht, who helped created MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and CBS News’ “CBS This Morning,” has kept an interest in that daypart even as he tackled other career challenges. The executive also told employees he aims to tinker with CNN’s 9 p.m. hour over the next few months in hopes of finding a new program for that time slot, which hasn’t had a regular anchor since the departure of Chris Cuomo last year.