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The Mark Thompson Plan

Mark Thompson
CNN’s fate no longer rests on television ratings, a point the new chief executive, Mark Thompson, understands quite well. Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images
Dylan Byers
December 1, 2023

On Wednesday evening, just as tenuous hostage negotiations were cratering in the Middle East and war raged in Eastern Europe and Kissinger obits were hitting the presses, CNN debuted King Charles, a pretaped weekly primetime series. The show featured Gayle King and Charles Barkley sitting on a pair of soft pink and purple chairs, bantering amicably about news and culture and conducting interviews with the likes of Fat Joe and Gannett pop culture beat reporters. 

The show, which had been conceived of by former CNN C.E.O. Chris Licht and developed by his longtime deputy Ryan Kadro (still at the network), was in many ways the last vestige of the brief, bygone era. Every other novel idea he’d had—new sets! new chyrons! a new morning show!—had been eagerly wiped away or readjusted upon his departure. But King Charles remained, presumably because of established contract agreements and an enduring belief by executives that star personalities might momentarily reverse or suspend linear TV’s inexorable decline.