How Will Jeff Zucker’s Programming Moves Impact CNN in 2014?

By Jordan Chariton 

CNN’s Jeff Zucker has had a busy first year at the helm at CNN, attempting to bring more “attitude” to the network while “not being so obvious.”

Part of that is moving away from what CNN has built up over the last three decades. Zucker recently told Capital New York the goal for the next six months is “more shows and less newscasts.”

His methods have included experimenting with half-hour programming: first the return of “Crossfire” and, more recently, the debuts of “The 11th Hour” with Don Lemon and “ICYMI” with Brooke Baldwin. Those two shows are replacement programs for the 11pm re-air of “Erin Burnett: Outfront” while Burnett is on maternity leave. Rachel Nichols’ Friday night show “Unguarded” is also 30 minutes. And the network debuted a half-hour documentary on the life and death of actor Paul Walker Friday night, to respectable ratings.

Former senior executive at CBS News, Fox News and Telemundo, Joe Peyronnin thinks the payoff of the half-hour strategy depends on concept and execution.

“Half-hour programs provide more entry points and promotional opportunities,” Peyronnin tells TVNewser.  “The strategy will be more costly, and success will depend on the strength of each concept, its talent and its producers–in a word, execution.”

Original series like “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and one-off documentaries like “Blackfish” have also provided a ratings boost. Zucker hints there will be more shows like these in 2014, potentially in weekday primetime.

“The downsides of a radical programming change at CNN are that it will alienate long-time loyal CNN viewers,” Peyronnin says. “And it may undermine CNN’s strong ‘hard news’ brand identity.”

That identity goes 33 years when founder Ted Turner deemed “The news is the star.”

“While that is a noble strategy, it is not consistently a winning ratings strategy, which is why CNN often finishes behind its competition,” Peyronnin says.

Everything is on the table when it comes to programming, insiders tell us, making Zucker’s “more shows and less newscasts” mantra one of the most interesting cable news storylines of 2014.