News Return: Zucker Hints at Broadening CNN's Coverage, No Details Yet

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How do you announce something that’s already out of the bag? In CNN‘s case, it meant rounding up reporters and putting them on the phone Thurs morning with newly named CNN Worldwide pres Jeff Zucker and his boss, Turner chmn/CEO Phil Kent. And that meant asking the same question—what are you going to do about ratings—a half dozen different ways. Zucker obliged by providing a detailed list of planned changes, new additions and cancellations—NOT! But there were some hints of what’s in store. Twice, Zucker declared that "news is about more than politics and war… That’s where we have to begin." Couple that with several statements he made about competition going beyond Fox News and MSNBC to all programmers who produce nonfiction programming, and his vision becomes a little clearer. In the past, CNN had shows that delved into fashion, technology and so on. "Some of that is going to be revisited," Kent said, comparing CNN’s potential offerings to various sections in a newspaper (newspaper reporters everywhere cheered that someone wants to emulate newspapers). To give you an idea of the ratings story, CNN averaged 1.05mln total viewers in prime for Nov vs Fox News’ 2.56mln and MSNBC’s 1.29mln. While focusing on just Fox and MSNBC would be a mistake, according to Zucker, he acknowledged that he’d like to beat them. Here’s what CNN’s not going to do: put a bunch of partisan pundits in primetime. "I think the most important thing is that CNN continues to remain editorially independent," Zucker said. "Just because you’re not partisan, it doesn’t mean you can’t be exciting. We need more passion and fans." Kent echoed the sentiment, saying that while ratings are obviously important, the "most important thing in our business is to be essential every day to someone." The press corp had no luck getting any details on what Zucker plans to change, with him declaring that it would be unfair to get into specifics about any shows and that "there is no doubt that there are great folks here and there is more work to be done." Zucker, former producer of NBC‘s successful morning show "Today," was equally mum about CNN’s morning lineup. But Kent wasn’t. "It’s not lost on any of us that HLN‘s morning show occasionally beats CNN’s morning show," the Turner boss said. Calling Zucker an "absolute expert" in morning television, Kent said CNN needs to look at what it should be doing differently from Fox News, MSNBC and the broadcasters in the a.m. Less stellar is Zucker’s track record as the head of NBCU, which included NBC rating declines and the whole Jay Leno primetime debacle. "No doubt I made mistakes in the entertainment world, and I own those," Zucker said, noting he has spent "the best years" of his career as a journalist and in news. "I’m returning to where I felt the most comfortable." He is currently producing Today alum Katie Couric‘s daytime show, but will wind that down and join CNN in Jan. Zucker succeeds Jim Walton, who previously announced he would leave at year-end.

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