Back in September, just before CNN chairman and C.E.O. Chris Licht formally announced that he’d be giving Jake Tapper a trial run in primetime, a high-level CNN source sought to assure me that Licht had other tricks up his sleeve if the Tapper experiment didn’t pan out. Licht certainly hoped Tapper would become the permanent anchor at 9 p.m., a marquee hour that had been effectively vacant since Licht took over the network in May. But he was also aware that Tapper had reservations about primetime, and that his professorial disposition might not prove to be a natural fit for cable’s more personality-driven hours—as would indeed turn out to be the case.
So, what other ideas was Licht kicking around, I wondered. This source told me, as I reported at the time, that Licht was interested in bringing over someone from the world of late night: a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert-type. This made a fair amount of sense. After all, Licht was fresh from his stint reviving Colbert’s show, which had been a moribund underperformer until Les Moonves moved him off CBS This Morning for a reboot. Perhaps he was still fascinated by the format.
Four months later, with Tapper back on dayside and 9 p.m. still in limbo, Licht recently told The New York Times that primetime was still an “open canvas,” and that he and his colleagues were “throwing things against the wall, looking at off-the-beaten path opportunities,” including someone from the world of comedy. He cited both Stewart and Colbert as examples of the kind of people who could be “compelling and entertaining without hurting the news brand.” Then, earlier this week, Semafor’s Max Tani reported that Licht was interested in hiring a “news entertainment” personality who could fill the 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. hours. CNN executives had floated names like Stewart, Bill Maher and Trevor Noah, Tani reported, and had “looked at other comedic news-focused talk shows for inspiration.”