Chris Licht, the producer who created “Morning Joe,” revamped “CBS This Morning” and revitalized “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” has been selected to run CNN once Discovery merges with WarnerMedia this spring, according to three sources with knowledge of the plan.
The parties involved have not yet commented on the anticipated appointment. But Licht’s hiring will be announced next week, one of the sources said.
Licht is currently the executive producer and showrunner of “The Late Show” and executive vice president of special programming at ViacomCBS, consulting on programming across the company.
Licht has more than two decades of television news experience. He has a reputation as a hands-on producer and talent manager with a keen interest in politics and news.
He has a contract with CBS that ends in April, one of the sources said, which aligns with Discovery’s plans.
AT&T (T), CNN’s current owner, is preparing to spin off CNN and the rest of WarnerMedia in the coming weeks. Then Warner and Discovery will come together and Discovery CEO David Zaslav will run the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery. The merger is expected to take effect in April.
Zaslav has been discussing potential candidates to run CNN, sources said, in the weeks since longtime CNN boss Jeff Zucker was forced out about a month ago.
Zucker abruptly departed on February 2 after he admitted to a consensual romantic relationship with his longtime No. 2 Allison Gollust. Corporate policy requires such a relationship to be disclosed to human resources, which Zucker and Gollust had not previously done.
The Zucker revelations stemmed from an internal probe that started when prime time anchor Chris Cuomo was fired last December.
Gollust exited CNN in mid-February. WarnerMedia said an investigation found “violations of Company policies, including CNN’s News Standards and Practices, by Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo.” The company has not detailed the violations, and Gollust’s representatives have defended her conduct.
Since the shakeup, three veteran CNN executives have been running the news network on an interim basis.
With Licht, Zaslav would be bringing fresh eyes to CNN, mirroring what sources said at the time of Zucker’s exit: That Discovery executives view Zucker’s departure as a “fresh start” for the news organization.
Unlike Zucker, who oversaw both news and sports assets for WarnerMedia, Licht’s role will have him exclusively overseeing news, according to one of the sources.
Licht’s impending promotion was first reported by Dylan Byers of Puck, who called Licht “the wunderkind producer of his generation with an ability to win over talent and see value where others don’t.”
Licht’s journalism roots are in local news. He worked at KNBC, the powerhouse NBC affiliate in Los Angeles, during the O.J. Simpson trial. He later worked for NBC’s affiliate in San Francisco. In 2005 he joined MSNBC as the executive producer for MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” hosted by Joe Scarborough. Then he built a morning show around Scarborough and colleagues, occasionally even appearing on-air from the control room.
In 2011 Licht leapt to CBS and engineered “CBS This Morning,” a brand new production of CBS News. He moved to “The Late Show” in 2016 and has worked closely with Colbert ever since.
At “The Late Show,” Licht has leaned hard into the news, often booking political guests and creating live events after presidential addresses.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, “The Late Show” adjusted its lineup and added a subject matter expert for Colbert to interview.
CNN’s up-to-the-minute coverage of the war has won praise from Discovery executives in recent days.
“I’ve been watching a lot of CNN,” Zaslav said on an investor call on Thursday. While other news channels have people “sitting behind desks and giving their opinion about what’s going on,” he said, CNN is “on the ground with journalists in bulletproof vests and helmets that are doing what journalists do best, which is fight to tell the truth in dangerous places. So that we all can be safe and we can assess what’s going on.”
Zaslav called it a “proud moment” for the network.