David Zaslav, the current head of Discovery, inherited the mess at CNN following two massive shake-ups. First, Chris Cuomo was fired back in December after it was revealed that he crossed the line ethically in helping his brother Gov. Andrew Cuomo through a sexual harassment scandal. Then, on Wednesday, CNN President Jeff Zucker abruptly resigned after he made public a consensual romantic relationship with another senior executive.
Along with these two major problems there are countless issues on the horizon: an impending lawsuit from Cuomo, declining ratings, and the importance of finding a replacement for Zucker before the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger is complete. With Zucker’s departure, everything has fallen into the hands of Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who will soon become the CEO of the newly revamped Warner Bros.
According to Variety, David Zaslav and Jeff Zucker were close business partners and friends, with a long relationship dating back to the 1980s. At the time, they were both executives at NBC, and their close friendship over the years was partly why the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger was going so smoothly.
Despite Zucker planning to leave when his contract expired at the end of 2021, he previously agreed to stay on a little while through the merger. Before his sudden resignation, the CNN president was also allegedly recruiting talent and shaping content for CNN+, the news network’s upcoming premium subscription streaming service.
“I think the expectation from everybody, inside both Warner and Discovery, was that Jeff would stick around, at least for the first portion post-merger,” an unnamed, inside source told Variety. “The merger still has to be approved, obviously. But in the event that it does — and as of right now, all signs seem to point in that direction — there was the idea that he would probably be sticking around to be a part of CNN.”
The Discovery Merger must still be approved by the Justice Department, but the government’s regulatory body has given no indication that the deal will not go through by April 2022.
“The sole focus, at Discovery is to go through the steps appropriate to get closer to closing the merger,” the source continued. “It does certainly leave a giant question mark in terms of who will be leading CNN on Day 1 because I think everybody would have said that it was going to be Jeff.”
Speculation growing out of his sudden departure stemmed from an assumed, approaching lawsuit from Chris Cuomo, as his legal team draws up grounds for unjust dismissal. Sources close to the situation leaked to Business Insider that Cuomo’s team may have flagged Zucker’s undisclosed relationship with senior executive Allison Gollust to cite a potential double-standard.
“Notice Zucker mentioned how this came from the Cuomo investigation,” a senior CNN staffer told The Daily Beast. “People think this is clearly Cuomo dragging down Zucker on his way out.”
After Zucker’s resignation Wednesday morning, WarnerMedia announced that Michael Bass, Amy Entelis and Ken Jautz would run CNN as interim co-presidents, with one of the three likely to succeed into the new role post-merger.
Amy Entelis is viewed as the frontrunner, according to an inside source from Variety, due to her close ties with many of CNN’s anchors, personnel, and original content departments. As the news network moves to create documentaries, films, and specials for CNN+, the company may want to appoint someone close to that division.
“It’s a totally new conversation. I don’t think there’s any intention to just continue with the existing interim (CNN) leadership,” the source told Variety.
Discovery business development chief Bruce Campbell and Discovery International chief JB Perrette have also been mentioned as potential successors to CNN president, especially as the network considers a stronger alignment between CNN leadership and Discovery’s Euro Sport broadcast.
Despite the mess at CNN, stock at both Discovery and AT&T/WarnerMedia closed with gains per share.