Jeff Zucker on Fixing CNN: 'We Don't Have to Do Anything' -- Network Chief Defends Recent Decisions That Have Drawn Criticism TV Guide
CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker defended a number of recent moves by the cable channel, which is struggling to raise its ratings while being targeted for criticism on all sides. Despite a flood of recent negative attention directed at the channel, Zucker told TV Guide that the network is “not under any pressure” to make changes to its prime-time lineup.
“We don't have to do anything," Zucker said. "When we find good and smart on-brand programming that's ready to go we'll look for a place for it."
But TV Guide notes that the “network still faces the challenge of growing its prime-time audience. Zucker's strategy of broadening the channel's offerings to include documentaries and series (once staples of CNN's lineup in previous decades when the network was considered more serious) has delivered a few ratings wins.”
The piece adds, “But it continues to be a tricky balancing act as viewers still expect the network to be the go-to destination for breaking news.”
Asked about CNN’s decision to air the film “March of the Penguins” while a major weather event was happening in most of the country, and to air a movie when other networks were covering breaking news about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Zucker defended the network’s decisions.
“We covered Christie for 12 straight hours, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. We had a movie scheduled the night Nelson Mandela died and we took it off. Everything will be on a case-by-case decision. We felt we had to go heavy on Mandela and even though we heavily promoted the movie, I moved it to Sunday night,” Zucker said.
As for “Penguins,” Zucker added, “We kind of thought it was the perfect movie for everyone at home in the cold weather. There is only so much you can do. I understand your point. It will always be news first, but every one of those is an individual judgment.”
Zucker also said the network’s ratings turnaround “will take years.”
The piece also notes that at CNN's recent presentation at TCA, Zucker "had come out swinging at Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes for his recent remark that CNN 'is out of the news business' -- a swipe at the channel's stated intention to look for programming outside of traditional news shows. Zucker, citing a new book about Ailes, countered that his top-rated competitor is an arm of the Republican Party 'masquerading as a news channel.'"