From yesterday's USA TODAY:
Can A New CEO Save CNN?
by Michael Wolff
CNN, the news network that nobody likes, or watches or can fix, is looking for a new CEO.
Even if you actually believed you could fix it, it's far from clear that anybody would want you to. Although the network is an embarrassment to everybody who works there, as well as to the industry as a whole, it still, confoundedly, makes tons of money — in part because it is so unfocused and ineffectual.
It's the dim and pointless yin to MSNBC and Fox, the sharp and pointed yang. CNN is every cable system's beard. You couldn't have the rancorous networks people really watch without the cover of the middle-of-the-road pallid one whose ratings sink ever further.
So the main job for the new CNN CEO may be just to bear the humiliation of it all.
There are quite a lot of people who would undoubtedly do that job. Television people, after all, need television jobs.
In the permanent class of contenders, you have David Westin, the former head of ABC News; Andrew Heyward, the former head of CBS News; Neal Shapiro, the former head of NBC News; and, most notably, Jeff Zucker, the former head of NBC Entertainment who went on to run the whole network, before Comcast, NBC's new owner, fired him.
Other candidates include the people currently in these jobs, who fear losing them — and who are more likely to keep them if someone else tries to hire them.
The first thing that is obviously wrong with each of these gentlemen is that they are network television guys and not cable guys. One critique about CNN is that, while it is a cable network, what it really wants to do is news the way networks used to do it. It yearns for a kind of virtuous respectability that no longer seems to exist.
It probably isn't just happenstance that CNN exists within the same company that produces News Night on HBO, a fictional news show that does not seem to know the difference between cable news and network news. Indeed, after News Night banned any mention of the Casey Anthony murder trial in one of its story lines as too louche for good people, so did CNN.
Of the network news execs, Zucker is the superstar favorite for the job — not least of all because he tells everyone he is. Phil Griffin, the head of MSNBC, who says he, too, has been approached about the CNN job, also says that the hypercompetitive Zucker is the only potential CNN chief he'd be afraid of.
On the other hand, the hypercompetitive and high-profile Zucker would have to pass muster with the low-key and low-profile Phil Kent, who is CEO of Turner Broadcasting, under whose umbrella, CNN — for historic if not logical reasons — falls. And Zucker and Kent seem like Mutt and, well, Jeff.
Zucker would also have to get by Jeff Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner, CNN's ultimate owner, whose job, everybody knows, Zucker wants.
Inside CNN, there is managing editor Mark Whitaker, the former editor of Newsweek, who has been trying to reinvent himself in television. Whitaker is the earnest news choice, but Time Warner tried this once before, when it gave Walter Isaacson, the former editor of Time, the top CNN job, with mostly unhappy results. (Also, Whitaker has gotten most of the blame for CNN rushing to be the first to air the Supreme Court's Obama heath care ruling — and getting it all wrong.)
Then there is cable television. Among cable's leading executives, there's Nancy Dubuc of the History Channel, who took a faded programming concept (Nazi reruns), which is pretty much CNN's lot, and gave it a new look (reality programming). Indeed, there are a lot of women in the upward ranks of television, all who have the advantage of not being the same old men.
And then there's a digital hire. CNN might wisely prepare itself for when news leaves television altogether for desktop, laptop and mobile devices.
Except that people in television don't really know people in digital, other than Arianna Huffington, who actually might take the job.
But here's the thing: Everybody knows what makes a cable news station work — the opposite kind of person from the one Time Warner would ever hire.
CNN stands between two competitors that succeed at the expense of CNN — Fox News and MSNBC. That's because they were created by two outsized and pretty much uncontrollable personalities.
Roger Ailes, at Fox, is television news' most powerful voice and greatest talent. Keith Olbermann, who effectively ran MSNBC, is television's most peculiar and irascible voice. (Even though Olbermann was finally fired at MSNBC, the network is still his programming vision.)
So in the end, even after much gnashing of teeth, this is how they'll look at it:
Sure, people make fun of CNN, but it makes money, doesn't it? So all we really have is a PR problem.
In that case, there is Gary Ginsberg, Time Warner's vaunted PR chief, formerly Rupert Murdoch's consigliere, who has long wanted to leave the corporate office and run an operating company. Ginsberg isn't a television guy. He's a brilliant and powerful corporate smoother and handler.
That's how you manage the unmanageable.
Life is just too short to remake cable news.
Monday, October 15, 2012
From yesterday's USA TODAY:
Posted by The ATC Team at 6:40 PM