A year into his tenure running CNN, Jeff Zucker has signaled for change. The network president decided his stodgy, old cable news station must freshen itself up with some "attitude" for a new era and a new audience.
Zucker outlined his new mission to Capital New York's Mike Allen and Alex Weprin, saying he wants CNN to become the news network with “an attitude and a take." Much like how Vince McMahon changed the then-World Wrestling Federation in the mid-90s with racier, reality-driven storylines (known to historians as "The Attitude Era") Zucker plans to do something similar with cable news. And he already has his "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Zucker's vision for a new CNN will have less hard, breaking news coverage and more pre-taped shows and documentaries. The change will be led by his new No. 1-rated star, Anthony Bourdain, cooking's "bad boy" figure. The success of Bourdain's show "Parts Unknown," wherein the chef travels to far-flung places to eat far-flung dishes, is the network's new flagship. Zucker also dropped Blackfish, the popular (and heavily promoted) documentary about the treatment of whales at Seaworld, as something successful he hopes to replicate in the future.
The new direction won't shock anyone who paid attention over the last year of Zucker's reign atop CNN: from the "poop cruise" to the George Zimmerman trial, the president's news judgement has been questioned from the beginning. Once CNN ignored some difficult ethical questions so Newt Gingrich could join the rebooted Crossfire, the winds had clearly changed. Zucker wants to draw in a new audience that may not watch cable news regularly, and that's because CNN is the third-rated cable news network behind MSNBC and Fox News. Zucker wants to bring in "viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E." You know, the ones advertisers with deep pockets crave.
Digital is the future for CNN, Zucker added. "Television is still our bread and butter today, but digital will continue to be more important every day going forward,” he told Capital. Zucker said he wants to grow the company's digital and mobile operations over the next few years to make sure CNN becomes the number one news network on your phone. Whether this new feel and focus will alienate CNN's audience or shore up the company's bottom line, will be awfully fun to watch.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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