Is he Licht already?
Less than a year after he took over as chairman of CNN, Page Six hears that there’s already chatter throughout the halls of the network that Chris Licht will be gone before Labor Day.
But other insiders say he might just stick around — but only because such a quick about-face would be embarrassing for CNN’s corporate boss, David Zaslav, who took a big risk in putting the untested Licht in charge of the operation.
Licht — who’s proved himself a phenom at the helm of shows like “The Late Show,” “Morning Joe” and “CBS This Morning,” but has no experience at the top of a whole network — took over from Jeff Zucker after Zucker was sunk by a sex scandal.
He has steamed into the role, casting off marquee names like Brian Stelter and Jeffrey Toobin (who, admittedly, had some baggage), overseeing major layoffs, shifting network star Don Lemon from his own primetime show to co-hosting the morning show, and shutting down streamer CNN+ just one month after its launch.
Meanwhile, CNN ratings have plummeted on his watch (although they were heading downwards under Zucker, too) and “CNN This Morning” — which should be well within his expertise as a breakfast time guru at CBS and MSNBC — has seen on-set confrontations between anchors and a mortifying national scandal after Lemon suggested presidential hopeful Nicki Haley is “past her prime.” Licht publicly rebuked Lemon for the gaffe.
He’s also sent eyebrows through the roof with news that NBA legend and TNT sportscaster Charles Barkley is being courted to appear on the network at prime time.
Network insiders last week sounded a note of frustration, saying that Licht seems scarcely more familiar with the network or its staff than he was when he took over in May 2022.
“He’s constantly with an entourage,” said one, “You see him rush by with his lackeys, but he doesn’t stop to talk with us regular folk. It’s like he’s scared of us.”
“The joke is that he’s never alone,” they added, “Does he go to the bathroom alone?”
“No wonder he had no idea that [Lemon], Poppy [Harlow] and Kaitlan [Collins] were never going to gel [as the co-hosts of “CNN This Morning,]” said the insider, “He doesn’t have his ear to the ground.”
“He hates the job and can’t do it,” added a particularly succinct source, agreeing that the consensus at CNN HQ is that his days are already numbered.
Meanwhile, we hear there’s also frustration that Licht seems to look back to similarly struggling CBS for his inspiration. He’s picked up executives and on-air talent from the perennially third-place broadcaster, and he’s also in talks to put Gayle King in a prime time rotation, even though she was drafted in by CBS to bolster its morning lineup but hasn’t delivered the numbers to match her hefty price tag.
A CNN spokesperson said: “Time will prove this story wrong. We won’t be distracted by cheap shots from competitors and anonymous naysayers.”
A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Discovery said called claims that Zaslov is stuck with Licht because firing him would be embarrassing, “Total BS.” They added, “Chris has Zaslav’s full support. Zaslav is always publicly supportive of Chris,” and pointed to Zaslav’s recent remarks in a CNN town hall for staff.
“I love CNN, Chris loves CNN. We’re going to get it right, it’s going to take a while. We’re making great progress. This is not easy. But we’re up for the fight – maybe it’s a year, maybe it’s three years, maybe it’s five years,” Zaslav said.