The implosion of CNN’s streaming ambitions dealt another embarrassing black eye to the cable news giant, and triggered an internal competition for hosting jobs that could see Chris Wallace landing a coveted primetime slot — but he’s facing external competition from former MSNBC hosts Brian Williams and Keith Olbermann.
The coming days will ignite a potential reshuffle of the cable network’s lineup, with six CNN+ hosts vying for new assignments or expanded roles after the streamer abruptly shuttered just three weeks after launch. Wallace, the star newsman lured from rival Fox News last December, is the internal favorite to switch over to the broadcast channel and inherit the 9 p.m. bully pulpit left open since Chris Cuomo was fired late last year.
CNN’s newly named president Chris Licht is playing his cards close to the vest, with insiders saying he didn’t even give the streamer’s top hosts and producers advanced warning about his decision to pull the plug on the platform. There was also uneasiness among the staff still getting to know a new regime ushered in earlier this month by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav.
“No one knows anything. Truly,” said one CNN+ journalist who will remain at the network, perhaps even in an expanded role. “We’re in the dark and will probably stay there for weeks.”
Wallace might not want to pick out his new set design and sign-off tagline just yet. Top CNN officials also met with Williams and Olbermann about potential opportunities, according to two individuals with knowledge of the meetings. Described as “friendly discussions,” one took place within the last three weeks.
A representative for CNN declined to comment for this article.
The 74-year-old Wallace has been lobbying CNN bosses since March for a primetime slot amid frustrations that his million-viewer Fox audience nosedived when he joined CNN+ and its 150,000 initial subscribers. Williams, the former “NBC Nightly News” anchor who exited MSNBC last year, reportedly turned down an offer to anchor the “CBS Evening News.” Olbermann, who left CNN in 2011 as host of his highly rated “Countdown” show, recently discussed efforts to bring him back MSNBC (until, he said, Rachel Maddow vetoed any plan for him to take over her primetime slot).
But the other CNN+ hosts with live shows — Kate Bolduan, Brian Stelter, former NBC correspondent Kasie Hunt, Sara Sidner and Bianca Nobilo — are actively seeking a chance to secure a daytime slot. The problem, said one senior CNN newsroom leader, is there’s “not enough seats if you’re playing musical chairs.”
The 30-minute streaming programs were seen as an audition for CNN executives to test the hosts (and their staff’s) ability to energize a daily audience. Stelter, who hosts Sunday’s media-centric “Reliable Sources,” was once floated as a contender for Cuomo’s old primetime spot.
The lobbying started almost immediately when word got around that CNN+ was likely being sent out to pasture. Bolduan, one of the high-profile faces of CNN+ after anchoring “At This Hour With Kate Bolduan” and “State of America,” was among the first to speak up at an all-hands meeting Licht held Tuesday in CNN’s Manhattan newsroom.
The anchor addressed Licht directly to detail the hard work and sacrifices made by the 500-member CNN+ staff, and that the shows were already resonating with viewers. Many in the crowd were still in shock that the network, which pledged $1 billion to build a streaming platform and absorb a few years of losses, was cutting most of the jobs after less than a month.
“Kate made an eloquent pitch for keeping ‘Five Things’ during the noon town hall,” said one person in the room, adding that Licht seemed appreciative of her advocacy.
But in the meeting’s most direct statement, he told employees, “This is a s—ty situation.”
The town hall was also attended by some of the CNN+ hosts and staff that worked on the weekly or monthly shows added to the streaming service, which Licht said may have a home on HBO Max or another streaming platform that may be developed.
Some of the notable hosts that were new to CNN included Audie Cornish, the longtime NPR anchor who was hired to to anchor news programs and host a podcast for CNN Audio. Others included New York University professor Scott Galloway and NBA player Rex Chapman, whose programs were offered along with streaming-only shows from CNN veterans Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper.