For CNN employees, the most surprising thing about the channel’s morning program announcement was how surprising it was.
CNN’s culture has, for years, been leaked, and big news often finds a way to get out. The morning kickoff, which will see Don Lemon depart at 10 p.m. in the morning, starring veteran staffer Poppy Harlow and White House reporter Kaitlan Collins, has come as a shock to two sources. by CNN The Hollywood Reporter talked to (several CNN staff convinced Lemon would be the new management just for the door).
But maybe it shouldn’t be. Licht, after all, told CNN employees on a daily editorial call after the cancellation Trusted Source that they should remove the reporting on the channel and that no one but him and a select group of CNN executives had any insight into their programming plans and strategies.
“Take a minute, see how things develop, and then have a response,” he said at the time.
The morning program news highlighted that, indeed, there is a new sheriff in town.
But it’s also the first major new programming move Licht has made since joining CNN in May.
While he added several collaborators, and parted ways with Brian Stelter, Jeffrey Toobin and John Harwood, those decisions were to adopt a chess term, gambits. An opening salvo sets the stage for the real game. The new morning show is where the game really begins.
“This is not an incremental change,” Licht wrote in a note to staff announcing the morning show schedule, noting that aside from the talent in front of the camera, everything else, from the setting to the format, will also be new.
Indeed, morning programming has been one of Licht’s top priorities since joining the cable news channel.
At a previous meeting with Warner Bros. Discovery in May, just days after Licht officially started working at the company, he announced that he would seek to “re-imagine” mornings on CNN.
“We’re looking to be a no-brainer for morning broadcasts in this space, and we believe we have the resources to do that,” says Licht.
That’s no small claim, given Licht’s role in transforming morning programs across MSNBC (helping to create Morning Joe) and CBS this morningeach of them has forged a different path than the regular morning shows, garnering loyal followers, if not first ratings.
But the real strategy behind Licht’s morning maneuver is the opportunities it creates. Yes, Lemon-hosted morning programming is CNN’s top priority, but removing him from primetime and Harlow from morning news gives Licht a chance to reshape the eight hours of daily coverage. CNN in one failed attempt.
By the time he’s done, Licht will be changing the 6-11am time slot with new anchors and approaches, and reshaping the golden hour, now open from 9am to 10pm (not to mention 11pm). p.m., an hour that CNN has vacated between original programming and replays for years).
Moves made in prime time will send the clearest message of Licht and Warner Bros.’s intentions. Discovery is for CNN. Lemon and former 9 p.m. host Chris Cuomo are known for their strong positions and key take on the news of the day. The new lineup, whatever its form, is unlikely to follow that pattern.
“[Warner Bros. Discovery CEO] David Zaslav gave me a simple directive: Make sure CNN remains the global leader in NEWS as part of Warner Bros. Discovery,” Licht wrote to employees in his first memo after his hiring was announced (with emphasis on his “news”).
And that’s just the weekday schedule. Licht also telegraphed plans for an overhaul on Sundays, Chris Wallace’s interview program and a limited newsmagazine program.
In the short term, expect a brand new CNN sooner than some might expect.
Until the show made headlines in the morning, much speculation surrounding CNN’s future had stemmed from its relationship with President Trump.
Some of the most criticized Trump talents have been removed, and of course the liberal investor John Malone’s comments (about wanting CNN to return to “grow back into the kind of journalism that it started”) spooked staff, who feared it wasn’t okay to report on the current political situation that could be seen as partisan.
But the morning show, which made Lemon not only appear in pictures but also on a top show (although in a period considered less prestigious than prime time) showed that Licht and his team still There are some surprising moves to play.
After Reliable Licht warns employees that “there will be more changes, and you may not understand or like it.”
If CNN’s morning game is any indication, it’s just the beginning of the game. And many unexpected things will happen.