Chris Licht Out at CNN Following Turbulent 13-Month Run

By A.J. Katz 

Warner Bros. Discovery is parting ways with CNN Chairman and CEO Chris Licht, the company announced Wednesday during CNN’s daily editorial meeting.

His tenure ends immediately.

According to Puck’s Dylan Byers, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said on the call, “I met with Chris, and he will be leaving CNN. We are in the process of conducting a wide search internally and externally for a new leader. The intention is that it will take a while.”


Zaslav added, “For a number of reasons, things didn’t work out, and that’s unfortunate, and ultimately that’s on me, and I take full responsibility for that. … But now we begin a new page.”

CNN evp of talent and content development Amy Entelis, evp of editorial Virginia Moseley, and evp of U.S. programming Eric Sherling, are leading the network through the transition period.

The move to cut ties with Licht comes less than a week after longtime Discovery executive David Leavy, the proverbial “right hand man” to Zaslav, was named CNN’s new chief operating officer. Leavy was tasked with taking over marketing, the PR department, ad sales, facilities and other business operations, and he now joins Entelis, Moseley and Sherling on the interim leadership team.

Here’s how CNN covered the news on its airwaves Wednesday morning:

Licht’s brief tenure as the head of CNN has been rocky from the get-go, starting with the cancellation of CNN+, followed by layoffs, poor Nielsen ratings, the failed launch of CNN This Morning, the slow response to fixing the 9 p.m. slot, the firing of Don Lemon, the widely-criticized live town hall with former President Trump and the subsequent low staff morale that came with it.

Another issue was CNN’s financial performance over the past year. The network generated $750 million in profit last year,which may sound like a lot, but it’s down from $1.25 billion the network hauled in the year before.

The nail in the coffin for Licht was the 15,000-word The Atlantic profile, titled Inside the Meltdown at CNN, which published on Friday (the day after David Leavy was named CNN’s COO). The story painted a not-so-positive picture of the executive’s tenure at the network, including his criticism of the network’s pandemic coverage that angered the network’s staff.

Licht apologized to staffers Monday morning for many of the sentiments he expressed to The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta. He vowed “to fight like hell” to regain their trust. However, WBD’s powers-that-be couldn’t have been pleased with the profile and all of the negative press it had spawned over the last several days.

Licht’s fate was sealed after that profile published.

“I have known Chris for many years and have enormous respect for him, personally and professionally,” Zaslav stated in a note sent to CNN staff this morning. “This job was never going to be easy, especially at a time of great disruption and transformation, and Chris poured his heart and soul into it. He has a deep love for journalism and this business and that has been evident throughout his tenure.”

Before joining CNN as its chief executive, Licht most recently served as the evp of special programming at CBS and executive producer and showrunner for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Prior to that, he was vp of programming for CBS News and executive producer of CBS This Morning, which he helped launch in 2012. Prior to CBS, Licht was the co-creator and original executive producer of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Here’s an internal memo Zaslav sent to staff Wednesday morning:

This story is breaking news and will be updated.

*Additional reporting by Mark Mwachiro