Jeff Zucker on CNN’s Evolution and His ‘Exhilarating’ Experience Leading the Way

By Alissa Krinsky 

JeffZuckerCNN“I think a new lineup will evolve over time,” CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker tells TVNewser about the cabler’s much-talked-about primetime schedule. “I don’t think we’re going to have a singular day when we’re going to announce a whole new lineup.  It’ll evolve.”

TVNewser caught up with Zucker in Chicago last night, at the Windy City premiere of “CHICAGOLAND”, CNN’s eight-part documentary series debuting tomorrow night at 10pmET.  It’s part of a wave of new programing ordered by Zucker in an effort to break the mold at the network and kick-start ratings.

One of the puzzle pieces for Zucker is how to utilize Piers Morgan, whose eponymous primetime show will soon be replaced. Earlier this week, Morgan said he’ll “make a deal to do 20 to 25 shows a year, all interviews with big names.”

“I am talking with Piers about what our future will be,” Zucker tells TVNewser. “We are in conversations.”

As the network moves forward, though, one thing is clear: Zucker likes the ratings scored by series such as “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and “Morgan Spurlock’s Inside Man”.

“Certainly, there’s an appetite and an audience that’s willing to come to CNN to watch that kind of programming, and I think that you’ll see more of that this year.”  Zucker says he has  “several other series in that vein that we haven’t even announced yet.”

And Zucker says that doesn’t mean CNN is moving away from being first and foremost a news organization.

“The fact is,” he says, “CNN is actually offering more hours of live news programming today than we have at any point in the last five years.  So the two [live news and documentaries] are not incompatible. We are always there when news happens. We’re in Ukraine this week, and Crimea, in tremendous numbers, offering round-the-clock coverage, far more than anyone else.”

While CNN’s evolution will take time — and patience — Zucker is keenly aware of the day-to-day ratings game.

“Look, ratings are important, and it’s one of the metrics by which we’re all measured.  And there’s no question that we always want better ratings. But the fact is, that’s just one of the ways we measure ourselves.”

He cites CNN’s combined reach through television, digital platforms, and global audience.

“But listen,” he says, “I don’t begrudge the way that [TVNewser], or others, report [on the ratings], because you’re reporting the ratings as they come out on a daily basis, and that’s fine.  We look at many other factors, and that’s how we judge.

“The most important thing for us, is that CNN be essential. We are a global network and we are on 24 hours a day, around the world, covering the most important crisis between East and West since the fall of the Berlin wall.”

Zucker says he’s relishing the challenge of leading CNN.  It’s been a little more than a year since he joined the network.

“It’s been fantastic. The opportunity and the privilege of running a truly global news network in these times is incredibly exhilarating.  And sure, there’s pressure, but it’s incredibly fulfilling. And I think it’s hard to appreciate, from the outside, the truly global reach of the CNN brand.”