NEW YORK — Jeff Zucker has officially been on the job at CNN for all of eight days, but sweeping changes are already underway at the ratings-challenged cable news network.
First up: The network Tuesday announced the hiring of Chris Cuomo, formerly the anchor of ABC’s “20/20, who is to play “a major role” on a new, as-yet-untitled morning show.
The program is in development and is expected to launch sometime in the spring, according to a CNN spokesperson. Cuomo, the younger brother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is no stranger to the wee hours: He was news anchor on ABC’s “Good Morning America” from 2006 to 2009.
In a statement, Zucker, the new president of CNN Worldwide, praised Cuomo as “an accomplished anchor who is already an established name in morning television, as well as a widely respected investigative journalist” who “never forgets about the viewer.”
The announcement did not address the fate of Soledad O’Brien, the host of the network’s current morning show, “Starting Point,” but a CNN spokesperson said that “Soledad is very important to the network, and we are discussing various options with her.”
The network declined to comment on a Deadline report that Erin Burnett, who hosts CNN’s “OutFront” at 7 p.m. EST, would join Cuomo in the mornings.
Though Zucker’s overall strategy for the network remains somewhat unclear — at least beyond his stated intention to broaden the definition of the news beyond “politics and war” — the poaching of Cuomo indicates the importance of the a.m. shift to the man who oversaw NBC’s “Today” in its heyday.
Cuomo arrives as three of the network’s most familiar political contributors — James Carville, Mary Matalin and Erick Erickson — are departing. Carville, a prominent Democratic strategist, has been with the network in various capacities since 2002. He is married to the conservative Matalin, a CNN contributor since 2009.
Erickson also joined the network in 2009. The pundit confirmed the “very, very difficult decision” to leave CNN in a post on Red State, the right-leaning website for which he is an editor.
Their departure, as well as the presence of fresh faces such as Van Jones, Cornell Belcher and Margaret Hoover during last week’s presidential inauguration coverage, signals a desire to revitalize the network’s political coverage in an effort to compete with MSNBC and Fox News.
The shakeup isn’t limited to on-camera talent: Mark Whitaker, the network’s managing editor and second-in-command since 2011, announced his departure in an internal memo Tuesday morning.
Praising Zucker as a “bold innovator,” Whitaker wrote: “For him to succeed, I believe he deserves his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff. I have shared that conclusion with him and he has agreed to let me step down as Managing Editor and move on from CNN.”
Rather than replacing Whitaker, Zucker will absorb his duties. “Jeff comes from an editorial background and will lead the editorial direction for CNN Worldwide,” said a network spokesperson.
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