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CNN Makeover

At only twenty-four years old, after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in American history, the future president of CNN Worldwide joined NBC’s Today show as a field producer. Two years later, he was executive producer for the show from 1992 until 2000, pushing the show’s ratings to a historic high. Now 12 years later, Jeff Zucker’s work at NBC Entertainment, NBC Universal, and the syndicated Katie talk show, has landed him at news cable network and  – in just a few short months – has made drastic changes to compete with other news outlets such as FOX News Channel and MSNBC.

This shift of the guard comes with changes to programming and a plethora of coming and goings. Since Zucker’s official appointment in January 2013, five major political contributors have left the network including James Carville, Mary Matalin, Erick Erickson, Bill Bennett and Maria Cardona. Cardona will remain a contributor at CNN en Espanol. Additionally, executive vice president and managing editor at CNN, Mark Whitaker, left at the end of January.

Also during this time, ABC News correspondent and 20/20 co-anchor Chris Cuomo was named anchor of a yet-to-be-titled CNN morning program set to launch later this year. At ABC News since 1999 in a variety of roles, Cuomo also served as a newsreader for Good Morning America and co-anchor for Primetime.

“While it’s very difficult to leave ABC News, a place filled with people I have loved working with for many years, I am excited about my future with CNN,” he said in a press release.

Though not yet official, CNN anchor Erin Burnett is expected to join Cuomo in the new morning program.

Since a revamp of the morning show was announced, rumors spread like wildfire on the fate of current CNN morning host of Starting Point, Soledad O’Brien. Last week, CNN officially announced a transition for O’Brien out of her morning role and into an independent production position. Launching in June 2013, O’Brien’s production company Starfish Media Group, will produce three long-form programming specials for CNN in 2014. She will continue her Black in America docu-series for the channel independently.

In the press release announcing the partnership, O’Brien was optimistic and positive about the change. “The new partnership opportunity allows me to focus on what I love to do the most, and to focus on the next stage of my career, owning my own work,” she said. “At CNN, I am grateful to have been able to tell often underreported stories and confront difficult topics. In the new production venture, I will continue to shine a light on what we all find most interesting about America.”

Another new weekday program recently titled The Lead, set to launch in March, has also recruited an ABC News journalist for the position. Named chief Washington correspondent for CNN in December 2012, Jake Tapper was previously senior White House correspondent for ABC News since November 2008. The Lead will air at the 4 p.m. hour, shaving one hour off of The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, and will feature top stories from politics, international news business, pop culture and sports.

As it seems CNN is expanding programming away from a constant breaking news pattern, another program is in development to be anchored by newly appointed sports reporter for CNN and Turner Sports, Rachel Nichols. Before her arrival at CNN in January, she was a correspondent at ESPN for SportsCenter, NFL Countdown, NBA Countdown and E:60, as well as a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football broadcasts. The weekend sports program will premiere later in 2013 and will feature interesting stories and personalities in the sports world.

Zucker’s expansion of sports features and the arrival of Nichols is a calculated one. “We’re just thrilled that a sports journalist of Rachel’s stature and expertise will now be a regular part of the CNN lineup. Her arrival…is an important step in expanding the range of programming and storytelling on CNN,” he said in the press release announcing her role.

And while travel expert Anthony Bourdain joined CNN as a culture commentator in May 2012, before Zucker arrived at CNN, the topical weekend show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown fits along with a refreshed lineup. To premiere mid-April, Parts Unknown is produced by Zero Point Zero Production, the same producers as his recently ceased Travel Channel program, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

During a guest appearance on Piers Morgan Tonight in November 2012, Bourdain expressed his excitement for the new project. “Well, you guys called, and, at a good time. It was a very exciting opportunity to shoot in places that I’d been wanting to shoot for a long time. This is a relationship that’s going to open up the world to me and my creative partners in ways that I’ve long aspired to,” he said.

O’Brien, who will continue to anchor Starting Point until late spring, told TVNewser that the changes to programming are necessary. “CNN absolutely, positively needed to be changed,” she said. “People outside and inside the building knew that. Jeff has done exactly what he said he would do. For the people who are there, he’s going to be great. He brings a sense of focus and vision.”

About Jenny Wittman

Jenny Wittman is senior editor and features writer for Cision Blog and oversees the daily media updates on the site. She is also senior media researcher at Cision and joined the company in March 2008. She likes being outdoors, going to concerts, traveling and exploring art galleries. She adores all animals and has a fascination for the cosmos. Find her on Twitter @jennywittman.

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