The week of April 12, 2021 will go down as one of the most chaotic in television news history. Correspondents are out in Minnesota covering the Derek Chauvin trial protests, and have experienced treatment reserved for journalists in third world countries.
But the week also featured upheaval in the news executive ranks, as two broadcast news divisions—CBS News and ABC News—named new leaders on consecutive days last week. ABC on Wednesday, CBS on Thursday.
Of course, yours truly picked the wrong week to take a vacation. More seismic stories about the TV news industry haven’t broken in a single week in years.
But I’m back! And as I’m taking a fresh look at last week’s major news, I pulled together this list of the 6 biggest questions that I have as a result of last week’s news executive upheaval:
- Who follows Kim Godwin from CBS to ABC? CBS News executive vp of news Godwin was named the next president of ABC News this past Wednesday, after she was widely considered the top external candidate for the role. She will step into her new role next month. Who else will she bring along with her to CBS? Could she lure CBS News evp and Washington bureau chief Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews to ABC after 28 years at CBS? Ciprian-Matthews has a ton of experience, and could potentially take the reins of This Week and ABC’s D.C. bureau. She could also be Godwin’s No. 2. Just a thought.
- Who will run GMA? And why was senior ep Michael Corn’s dismissed so abruptly in between permanent news chiefs? Corn may have wanted the president role (and understandably so), and it’s possible that he was peeved when he didn’t receive it. He’s a longtime ABC Newser, and has run TV’s most-watched morning show for seven years. Or perhaps Godwin already has someone else in mind to run GMA, and that person was not Corn. Either way, Corn’s departure leaves a gaping hole, not just on the morning show, but the ABC News family as a whole. Before GMA, he was at the helm of World News for 3 years; ABC for nearly 20 years overall. GMA has multiple EPs handling separate hours, but now has no one overseeing the whole operation like Corn. Will Godwin bring someone in from the outside to oversee GMA? A morning show vet Ryan Kadro or a maybe lure Chris Licht away from The Late Show? Perhaps she’ll just promote one of the people already overseeing one of the hours. Or maybe World News Tonight with David Muir ep Almin Karamehmedovic. After all, there is a history at ABC of moving evening news producers to the morning show.
- How will this new CBS division work, and can two people really run a news division jointly? Two days after ABC News named Godwin its new president, and one day after it eliminated Corn, president of the ABC TV stations group and an internal frontrunner for the ABC News gig Wendy McMahon announced her departure effective immediately. One day later, it was announced that McMahon is joining CBS to co-lead a combined CBS News and CBS TV stations group. Hearst Newspapers, cable networks & digital media executive Neeraj Khemlani will lead the new news and stations division with McMahon. I have no idea how this co-chief arrangement will work; I’m not sure we’ve ever had something like this. NBC and MSNBC sometimes mix operations, but at the end of the day, they still report to one person: NBCU News Group chairman Cesar Conde. My guess is McMahon will probably focus more on local oversight. That’s her bread and butter, whereas Khemlani, who has worked at CBS News in the past could focus more on national. McMahon also has a solid background in digital TV news, and I bet she’ll be pretty hands on when it comes to CBSN.
- We will see consolidation and layoffs as the CBS News and business side joins forces? Those seem inevitable in any kind of reorganization. From a talent standpoint, I bet you see more CBS station local reporters/anchors/correspondents contributing to the morning and evening national newscasts, perhaps to the detriment of existing CBS News national correspondents. Certainly there will be fewer executives, and the executives that remain may oversee both the national and local news.
- How will soon-to-be-former CBS News chief Susan Zirinsky operate in the new division? The Khelmani-McMahon hire means that CBS News president and senior ep Zirinsky no longer be president of the news operation, ending a 25-month stint at the top of the CBS News heap. Zirinsky accomplished a lot in her 2+ years leading the team. She promoted Norah O’Donnell to CBS Evening News anchor, named Gayle King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil the new anchor team for CBS This Morning. Now she’s in the process of signing a new deal with ViacomCBS allowing her to return to producing. Will she have autonomy in whatever new deal she signs; if not, what will her relationship be like with the new chiefs? I’m not sure that she’s ever met McMahon, who has been based in Burbank for years. That said, Zirinsky, who has been with CBS News seemingly forever, likely has some familiarity with Khemlani, a former 60 Minutes producer from 1998-2006 before he left to run Yahoo originals, and later arrived at Hearst. I assume this new deal allows her do whatever she wants, creatively. Frankly, she’s earned it, and one would imagine the co-presidents will allow her to do whatever she wants—whether that has to do with producing prime time news specials, either for linear or for streaming.
- Finally, how—if at all—do these moves impact the looming CNN vacancy? I don’t believe they really do. I think CNN will promote from within once Jeff Zucker leaves the network later this week. Potential candidates: CNN original series chief Amy Entelis, CNN U.S. head of programming (Zucker’s longtime No. 2) Michael Bass, as well as CNN D.C. bureau chief Sam Feist would have to be on the list of potential candidates.