A trio of longtime executives have taken charge at CNN following the exit of Chris Licht.
"It's really about listening now and executing and getting back to work," says COO David Leavy.
Amy Entelis, who manages talent, has been seen as a leading internal candidate to take over.
There's a moment in Tim Alberta's brutal profile of CNN's now-former CEO Chris Licht where Licht awkwardly takes a jab at his predecessor Jeff Zucker. Grabbing a long metal pole during a workout with his trainer, Licht says through clenched teeth, "Zucker couldn't do this shit."
The following Monday, as Licht attempted to quell growing calls for his ouster, Licht told CNN staff: "As I read that article, I found myself thinking, CNN is not about me. I should not be in the news unless it's taking arrows for you. Your work is what should be written about."
The sense that Licht had made it all about him, while overseeing a precipitous drop in ratings, had made things untenable.
Licht's decision to move his office to a grander and less accessible space high above the newsroom, his sharp criticism of some of CNN's journalism under his well-liked and very hands-on predecessor, and his disastrous attempt to parlay his previous success producing "Morning Joe" into revamping "CNN This Morning," while neglecting primetime, all led to a loss of faith in Licht's leadership.
The last straw might have been Licht's most ambitious play, a town hall with former President Donald Trump, which angered CNN's core audience and even sparked a public rebuke from Christiane Amanpour.
Licht had lost the newsroom, alienating both the rank and file and the network's biggest stars — including, apparently, Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper.
"Maybe put a lady in charge of editorial this time?" Vox Media journalist Kara Swisher tweeted in the early hours of Tuesday. "My pick for obvious interim leader would be the always classy and hugely talented Amy Entelis. Place your bets, folks!"
She was right, in part. At least for now.
On Wednesday — less than a week after Alberta's story went live — Licht was out, and Amy Entelis, who has led recruitment and development of original programming since joining CNN in 2012 from ABC, was among a trio of longtime executives named to lead the network while parent company Warner Bros. Discovery searches for a new network chief.
The others were Virginia Moseley, executive vice president of editorial, who runs breaking news coverage and domestic newsgathering and brings a long track record of overseeing political coverage; and Eric Sherling, executive vice president of US programming, who has had two decades in executive producing and programming with shows like "The Lead With Jake Tapper" and "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" to his credit.
David Leavy, who is close with WBD chief executive David Zaslav, will remain in the COO slot that he was named to last week, while continuing to oversee public policy and social responsibility for WBD.
All of them will report to Zaslav, who wants the network to continue reflecting a wider variety of political viewpoints, including conservative ones, as it had begun to do under Licht.
The immediate task ahead will be to firm up the trust of the newsroom and fill programming holes. Longer term, the job is to stem, if not reverse, CNN's falling profits and ratings and set a digital strategy, which was upended when WBD pulled the plug on newly launched CNN+ over a year ago.
"The team's empowered," Leavy told Insider. "It's really about listening now and executing and getting back to work. It's all about the work and the strategy."
CNN must "stop the self-inflicted wounds," he said, but he's bullish about CNN's future.
"We're not like Vice or BuzzFeed. We're not going out of business. It's making sure we have good processes, good communication," Leavy said. "The core strategic advantages are pretty sound."
As for the idea some have floated that he might return toe WBD full time — after all, his CNN appointment was intended to help Licht right the ship — Leavy said, "This is my new job. I'm not going anywhere."
A perfect storm
While some inside CNN are breathing a sigh of relief that the Licht era is over, the bigger problem remains of reversing CNN's ratings demise and shoring up its business model.
For now, the interim leaders, and then whoever is chosen as Licht's successor has their work cut out for them.
CNN's primetime lineup remains in flux. Kaitlan Collins is due to debut a new show in the 9 p.m. slot later this month, but her move, along with Don Lemon's dismissal in April, leaves another vacancy to anchor alongside Poppy Harlow on "CNN This Morning."
Licht's attempts, reportedly at Zaslav's direction, to make the network a friendlier place for conservative voices never succeeded in bringing in viewers from the right, while moderate and liberal audiences have reportedly been tuning out since the infamous Trump town hall.
"You do have a tough situation," said Jonathan Miller, former top NewsCorp executive and BBC News Board member and current CEO of Integrated Media, on the larger challenges that any new leader of CNN faces.
"You have almost a perfect storm of the network trying to reinvent itself, personal issues that have come to the fore with the last two leaders, and the paid TV universe is shrinking. No matter what, you're addressing a smaller audience. The thing you can address the most is, what's the audience you're trying to capture?"
'She knows how to bring out the best in people'
While Entelis has been viewed as the leading internal candidate to take over, people who know her emphasized she loves her current job and is focused on the near-term.
If Licht was seen as mismanaging CNN's top talent, Entelis, in particular, is known to be the queen of talent.
Entelis, 72, who previously spent three decades at ABC, had helped develop everyone from Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel to Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper. She made a name for herself as someone who could spot and nurture talent, zero in on people's strengths, and offer frank feedback. (CNN declined to comment about its CEO search.)
Industry sources who know Entelis said she's a credible and trusted executive who will bring the stability the network needs now.
"Amy's a legend," a former CNN employee told Insider. "She knows how to bring out the best in people."
In her current role as executive vice president for talent and content development at CNN Worldwide, she produced award-winning films and shows, like the Oscar-winning "Navalny" about the Russian opposition leader, and the megahit "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown."
She also advocated to put more women in high-profile, hard-news beats.
Other projects she championed included Lisa Ling's "This is Life," and W. Kamau Bell's "United Shades of America," which explored race in America and aired from 2016 to 2022.
"So does this mean I can have my old job back?" Bell tweeted on Wednesday.
In a tribute to Entelis for a special issue of Variety in 2019, Tapper — who worked with her both at ABC and at CNN — wrote that her "greatest joy" was to see the people she had brought in and mentored succeed.
She's also proven herself as a valuable lieutenant.
Just over a year ago, when Zucker was pushed out after failing to disclose a consensual relationship with a colleague, Entelis was a part of the leadership team that steered the ship before Licht stepped into the role. And late last year, when CNN announced it would pull back production of original series and films — Entelis' wheelhouse — she stayed on, reinventing her role and finding ways to approach longform content in-house.
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