Chris Licht is out at CNN after leading the news network for a little more than a year, parent company Warner Bros Discovery announced Wednesday morning.
The company said it is seeking a replacement. In the meantime, executives Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, Eric Sherling and David Leavy will lead CNN, the company said.
“We have great confidence in this group and will fully support them until a new CEO is named,” Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said in a memo to staff on Wednesday, adding the company would be conducting a search internally and externally for CNN’s next leader. “We are in good hands, allowing us to take the time we need to run a thoughtful and thorough search for a new leader.”
Licht’s departure came as he faced a rebellion among CNN’s talent and staff. His tenure, which effectively started when he eliminated the network’s expensive CNN+ streaming service, was riddled with programming missteps and rock-bottom ratings.
“I have known Chris for many years and have enormous respect for him, personally and professionally. This job was never going to be easy, especially at a time of great disruption and transformation, and Chris poured his heart and soul into it,” Zaslav said in his memo. “Unfortunately, things did not work out the way we had hoped – and ultimately that’s on me. I take responsibility.”
Chris Licht, Chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide.
Licht drew heated criticism in recent weeks after the network hosted a town hall with Donald Trump that was packed with scores of the former president’s cheering fans. While the event drew 3.3 million viewers, CNN’s ratings plummeted afterward. Two days after the town hall, CNN’s prime-time viewership came in below right-wing outlet Newsmax, a much smaller network.
But it was an unflattering 15,000-word profile of Licht in The Atlantic – titled “Inside the Meltdown at CNN” – that might have sealed his fate. He apologized to staffers Monday morning, but top brass at CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, including CEO David Zaslav, weren’t happy with the article and the aftermath.
“I have great respect for Chris, personally and professionally,” Zaslav said in a news release. “The job of leading CNN was never going to be easy, especially at a time of huge disruption and transformation, and he has poured his heart and soul into it. While we know we have work to do as we look to identify a new leader, we have absolute confidence in the team we have in place and will continue to fight for CNN and its world class journalism.”
The move comes soon after Leavy, a key Zaslav ally, was named the network’s new chief operating officer. Leavy was tasked with taking over marketing, public relations, advertising sales, facilities and other logistics.
The move was intended to allow Licht to focus more on programming. Licht helped launch MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as its executive producer in 2007 and later became executive producer and showrunner of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS.
Read Zaslav’s memo to staff:
This morning we are announcing that Chris Licht will be leaving CNN and we will be conducting a wide search, internally and externally, for a new leader. I wanted you to hear this news directly from me as it impacts you and your teams.
I have known Chris for many years and have enormous respect for him, personally and professionally. This job was never going to be easy, especially at a time of great disruption and transformation, and Chris poured his heart and soul into it. He has a deep love for journalism and this business and that has been evident throughout his tenure. Unfortunately, things did not work out the way we had hoped – and ultimately that’s on me. I take responsibility. Needless to say, we appreciate Chris’ efforts and dedication and wish him all the best.
We have put in place a solid transition plan with the appointment of an acting leadership team made up of experienced programming executives… Amy Entelis, EVP, Talent & Content Development, Virginia Moseley, EVP, Editorial, and Eric Sherling, EVP, U.S. Programming, along with David Leavy, COO, on the commercial side. We have great confidence in this group and will fully support them until a new CEO is named. We are in good hands, allowing us to take the time we need to run a thoughtful and thorough search for a new leader. I recognize that changes like this can be stressful and appreciate your continued patience as we move through this process.
You’ve heard me say it many times: CNN has the greatest journalists in the world… we are deeply committed to supporting them and the critical work that CNN does every day. We must get this right – and we will!
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of MSNBC and CNBC.