Colbert executive producer tapped to lead CNN
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Licht was the producer who helped launch “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and relaunched CBS News‘ morning show. Most recently, he’s been heading up “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and also serving as vice president of special of programming.
The news was reported by Dylan Byers of Puck, who cites unnamed sources.
Licht will take over CNN once the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger is completed later this spring.
His deal with Paramount, the owner of CBS, expires in April 2022.
CNN is currently part of the WarnerMedia division of AT&T, which is expected to spin off the division and merge it with Discovery. The new parent company will be known as Warner Bros. Discovery.
Licht will replace Jeff Zucker, who was forced to resign earlier in 2022 after it was revealed he had a consenting relationship with the network chief marketing officer Allison Gollust but did not disclose it as required by company policy.
Zucker was also head of WarnerMedia’s sports division, a role that Licht is not expected to take on.
Licht will bring a strong news background to the network along with his experience crossing over into more entertainment-centric programming at “The Late Show,” though he began mixing in more political guests and produced specials after major political events.
Licht also has experience in local news, having worked early on in his career at KNBC in Los Angeles. He joined MSNBC in 2005 and executive produced “Scarborough Country” featuring former Florida congressman Joe Scarborough. After the morning timeslot opened up when MSNBC dropped its simulcast of Don Imus’ radio show, “Morning Joe” was created and Licht and Scarborough both moved to the morning shift.
He was then lured away from MSNBC to help CBS launch the second iteration of “CBS This Morning” in 2011. The move represented the network’s latest attempt to boost the third rated morning show.
There were briefly rumblings that Licht would try to bring Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski over from “Joe,” though that never materialized.
“CBS This Morning” differentiated itself by focusing more on hard news instead of normal show offerings such as cooking segments and sofa talk.
It also built a unique in the round set that incorporated a glass box green room and small cluster of workstations.
Although the revamp of “This Morning” did eventually see an uptick in the ratings, that mostly ended after co-anchor Charlie Rose was fired for alleged sexual misconduct and the show continued to languish in third place. After multiple anchor changes, CBS eventually rebranded the show “CBS Mornings” in 2021 and moved it to Times Square.
He would move over to “Colbert” in 2011 and in 2021, it was announced Licht was set to become one of the principals in Colbert’s production company, Spartina Productions, which signed a three year deal with CBS to develop content for both linear and streaming platforms in addition to the shows it already produces on Paramount+ and Comedy Central, both of which are owned by Paramount.
It appears that he will leave Spartina as part his move to CNN.
At CNN, Licht will inherit a network that’s struggling in the ratings — despite having invented the genre of cable news. CNN routinely comes in last place behind Fox and MSNBC.
One of Zucker’s priorities, morning show “New Day,” has failed to much in the ratings even after a 2021 anchor change and updated format.
CNN is also prepping to launch its own streaming service, CNN+, sometime this spring, though it’s not immediately clear if Licht will be on hand for that launch or not since the network hasn’t given an exact launch date.
CNN+ is expected to offer a mix of news programming as well as a weekly news and issues centric talk show, documentaries and other offerings, so Licht’s experience across multiple formats of TV may prove valuable.
The network is also facing an identity crisis after some say Zucker let the network become too left leaning, especially during its personality driven shows.
It also has to fill its 9 p.m. timeslot after Chris Cuomo was fired after an investigation revealed he allegedly became involved with advising his brother, then governor of New York Andrew Cuomo after he was accused of sexual misconduct (he has denied the allegations). It was during that investigation that word of Zucker and Gollust’s relationship reportedly came to light and there have also been indications that Gollust allegedly assisted the Cuomo brothers during the aftermath of the harassment accusations.
“Cuomo Prime Time” had been a brighter spot on the network’s schedule and the hour is currently using rotating hosts and testing out different formats until a decision can be made on a replacement show and host.