On Tuesday morning, CNN chairman and C.E.O. Chris Licht arrived at his network’s 9 a.m. editorial meeting with a surprise guest: his boss, David Zaslav. The timing of Zaz’s visit to CNN’s “Grand Central” conference room was notable to network insiders. A day earlier, Page Six had floated an incredulous rumor that Licht might be defenestrated before Labor Day—or, at the very least, that CNN staffers were whispering about that potentially, possibly, maybe happening. Whether previously scheduled or unintentional, Zaz was showing up to support his boy in Hudson Yards.
Zaz has no intention of ousting his hand-picked CNN chief, sources familiar with his thinking tell me. But his visit to CNN’s headquarters—which also included a managers’ meeting, a sit-down with a top producer, a preview of Licht’s new daytime branding effort, and a briefing with the digital team—suggests that he is indeed taking a more aggressive, hands-on approach to one of the more beleaguered assets in his portfolio.
CNN executives hate this paragraph, so let me keep it as brief as possible: In Licht’s first year at the helm, CNN has been beset by historically low ratings, diminished revenue, mass layoffs, budget cuts, sapped morale, a few ill-advised programming moves and tensions between the stars of his flagship morning show, Don Lemon and Kaitlan Collins. Indeed, in a wrinkle befitting our times, Collins recently left talent agency UTA for WME, in part because she didn’t want to share the same agent as Lemon, sources familiar with the matter said. In private conversations, she has also mused aloud about returning to Washington, D.C., even though the show is based in New York.