Chris Licht made his first public appearance as CNN chairman and CEO at the Warner Bros. Discovery upfront event Wednesday in New York—and had a few announcements to share.
The most significant announcement was that the now-defunct CNN+ interview-style show Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? will stream on HBO Max—and air on the CNN linear network weekly on Sunday evenings.
At CNN+, Who’s Talking? aired four days a week—and it was one of the few offerings that attracted an audience at the fledgling streaming service. His new show is set to premiere in the fall and will be part of a new programming block at CNN titled “CNN Sunday.”
“A big part of the CNN brand is respectful, authentic and impactful interviews—and one of the best interviewers in the business is Chris Wallace, who is here with us this morning,” said Licht, motioning to the longtime newsman, who was seated in the front row. “We’re excited to announce that Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? will return to production this fall, with episodes on HBO Max and on our CNN linear channel on Sunday evenings. Chris’s show will be part of what we’re calling ‘CNN Sunday.’ It’s a unique opportunity for your brands to appear alongside our premium content.”
Axios reported the news about Wallace’s show roughly an hour before Licht made it official on the WBD upfront event stage at MSG. Bloomberg reported last month Who’s Talking? would “likely” find a home on the CNN TV network.
“Who’s Talking? is a rare show built for streaming that gives newsmakers the opportunity to have candid conversations—and an open dialogue about the issues of the day and whatever is on their minds,” Wallace said in a separate statement. “I’ve never had more fun developing a program and am looking forward to bringing it to both HBO Max and CNN audiences.”
In addition to hosting Who’s Talking? on HBO Max and CNN, Wallace will remain a CNN anchor. He joined CNN in January after more than 50 award-winning years in broadcasting, including 18 years with Fox News, where he was the anchor of Fox News Sunday.
Another major announcement made by Licht on Wednesday had to do with the CNN’s morning offering. “First, we will reimagine our morning show, leveraging our correspondents and unmatched resources in the U.S.—and around the world—to provide news that viewers need to know as they start their day,” said Licht, the original executive producer of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I’m going to be honest here, we are seeking to be a disrupter of the broadcast morning shows in this space—and we believe we have the people and resources to do that.”
The second part of that statement is especially interesting, considering Licht also helped create CBS News’ existing morning offering, one which boasts its status as the “newsier” alternative to GMA and Today.
If there’s anyone who knows morning television, it’s Licht. We’ll see what he has in mind this fall.
Included in the new “CNN Sunday” block is a “topical long-form show,” which Licht said, “will showcase our existing correspondents and contributors, telling new stories they enterprise from around the world. So whether it’s investigations or far flung human dramas, this show will be an exciting outlet for the stories that can have a real impact and bolster the CNN brand.” More details to come on that.
While there will be a new CNN Sunday, Sunday primetime will still be comprised of CNN Original Series and CNN Films, “because these are key differentiators for CNN compared to our news competitors.”
Licht noted CNN Original Series, like Searching for Italy with Stanley Tucci, the new Searching for Mexico with Eva Longoria, See It Loud: The History of Black Television in America that’s executive produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter and The 2010s, which is the latest installment of the network’s acclaimed “decades” franchise, which looks at the last decade in culture, politics and history. Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman remain eps of that franchise.
Licht also noted new CNN Films and said the network will increase production of documentaries, “including high-end, quick-turn topical hours that can capitalize on audience interest in major news and cultural events.”
Announcements about Chris Wallace’s new show, the “re-imagined” morning show, as well the upcoming “topical long-form show” come when the emphasis on news is taking on an even more greater meaning at CNN.
“The next chapter is CNN was one where we aspire to be a beacon for the kind of journalism essential to a functioning democracy,” said Licht. “At a time where extremes are dominating cable news, we will seek to go a different way reflecting the real lives of our viewers—and elevating the way America and the world views this medium. We intend to challenge the traditional philosophy of cable news, delivering programming and commentary that questions the status quo. Groupthink holds our leaders on both sides of the aisle accountable to facts—and fights fearlessly to get to the truth.”
Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav also featured CNN in his opening remarks at today’s upfront event. “There is no news organization in the world like CNN. No one has the newsgathering resources, no one has the people on the ground everywhere in the world. None,” said Zaslav. “At a time where most news networks are advocacy networks, we at CNN intend to advocate for journalism first. To advocate for facts and for truth—and to advocate for underserved news consumers for Americans seeking more accurate information and less yelling and conflict.”
*Additional reporting from TVNewser contributor Mark Mwachiro.