When Chris Licht officially took over as chairman and CEO of CNN in May, he said he would take his time and be methodical regarding the changes he would make.
In June, in his first public comments about his new role, this was his message: “buckle up.”
So far, most of Licht’s work has been behind the scenes. The CNN CEO has been on a meet-the-people tour with staffers across its many offices; he announced new guidelines on how the Breaking News banner will be used; he has met with congressional leaders, and this past July, he named his executive leadership team.
Licht has left the on-air product primarily untouched. Until now.
On Thursday, CNN canceled the Sunday morning program Reliable Sources—and its host Brian Stelter will depart the network. In its place, for the time being, CNN will re-air Inside Politics.
Stelter, hired by then-CNN chief Jeff Zucker in 2013, helmed the Sunday media affairs program for more than 8 years. He made frequent on-air appearances throughout the day—and wrote the highly successful Reliable Sources newsletter, alongside Oliver Darcy.
He may have been the first casualty of CNN’s new mandate under Licht, which comes from Warner Bros. Discovery head David Zaslav, who wants CNN to be a network for “Americans seeking more accurate information and less yelling and conflict.”
Stelter’s departure is the first significant change Licht is making to the on-air product of CNN—and it signals the beginning of the end of Zucker’s style of programming CNN.
Zucker embraced the analysis format and encouraged his anchors to be more combative when interviewing subjects. As a result, he was rewarded with high ratings and record profits, but many believed he had moved CNN away from its original premise.
Licht wants to change that. He is ready to put his stamp on the network. He wants CNN to continue covering the news but in a more nuanced way.
He wants to see a new type of morning show, which has led to Ryan Kadro joining the network to oversee that development and work on the 9 p.m. slot—and he is set to announce his new Sunday evening lineup, anchored by Chris Wallace.
According to The Daily Beast’s Corbin Bolies, during CNN’s morning editorial meeting, Licht hinted that there may be additional departures with more programming changes in the coming weeks.
Who’s staying and who is going is anyone’s guess, but we are starting to witness a new CNN. One that will be very different from what we have known over the past ten years.