Chris Wallace is just the beginning — Jeff Zucker is planning a major pivot at CNN

CNN’s head honcho, Jeff Zucker, is rumored to be planning a major pivot to the right in the first and second quarters of next year, presumably out of concern for the network’s badly tarnished brand in light of years of poorly produced and blatantly propagandistic content purporting to be news.

The network’s audience has declined and the once sterling cable network has slipped behind competitors Fox News and MSNBC.  Sources say that Zucker has come to the realization that the network needs to restore its brand with a noticeable pivot to the center-right for the next several election cycles.

“This is going to be a long rebuild,” the CNN executive explains.  “It’s going to require regaining the trust of the audience, and that will take much higher quality content that’s delivered in an honest, straightforward, good-faith way.”

He says it’s going to require terminating most current on-air talent, which will be accomplished by declining to renew contracts.  He expects all major primetime personalities to be replaced.

Just this week, longtime Fox News Sunday host Mike Wallace announced that he was joining CNN’s new streaming platform.

CNN trails badly in primetime.  The prospect of wooing Lou Dobbs back to the network from Fox Business has been discussed internally, but Dobbs would likely demand upwards of $10 million a year and a top-tier time slot.

“The strategy will be to hire older, tested professionals with lots of gray hair, and step away from younger, more biased, more emotional reporters who are still early in their careers,” explains the source, who is familiar with Zucker’s thinking.

In primetime, Fox News averaged 2.58 million total viewers, which was down 35% from the same period a year earlier. MSNBC averaged 1.09 million total viewers, down 59%, and CNN was at 654,000, off by 77%. In the 25-54 demo, Fox News averaged 420,000, down by 49%, followed by CNN with 148,000, off by 84%, and MSNBC with 140,000, down 74%.

In total day, Fox News averaged 1.54 million, down 20%, followed by MSNBC with 660,000, off by 58%, and CNN with 495,000, falling 72%. In the 25-54 demo, Fox News averaged 264,000, down 36%, CNN had 108,000, falling 81%, and MSNBC was at 78,000, down 74%.

“Expect Zucker to diversify the network beyond news — particularly in late night and daytime,” he explains.

Zucker is planning a late-night entertainment program that will be modeled on the Tonight Show, with a host who delivers a nightly monologue before interviewing guests.  Wanda Sikes, Charlie Rose, and Katie Couric are each in contention for the late-night role.

A second show with the same format, airing immediately after, but a host has not been secured for that program through several comedians are being vetted for consideration.

The network’s morning program will be rebranded with a new studio overlooking Central Park, while a late-morning show during the 11am EST time slot will air from a new studio on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.  Expect a lot more entertainment news, interviews, and reviews during daytime programming.

“Zucker is begging Katie Couric to lead the late-morning show, with roughly the same format and the same time slot as ABC’s The View,” the source explains.  “But she would have to move to LA — Jeff insists on that.”

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