Chris Licht, a Creator of ‘Morning Joe’ and ‘Colbert’ Producer, Is Set to Run CNN

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Chris Licht, a veteran television producer who helped create “Morning Joe” at MSNBC and later successfully retooled morning and late-night programming at CBS, is set to be the next leader of CNN, according to three people with direct knowledge of the decision.

Mr. Licht, who is currently the executive producer of “Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” is poised to succeed Jeff Zucker, the CNN president whose nine-year tenure abruptly ended this month when he resigned over an undisclosed romantic relationship with a colleague.

He is expected to join the network once its parent company, WarnerMedia, completes a merger with Discovery Inc., a deal that could close by April. Mr. Licht and David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery, are professional and social friends who have known each other for more than a decade.

A formal announcement is expected as soon as this coming week. Puck first reported the news of Mr. Licht’s selection.

Overseeing CNN — a sprawling news organization with a worldwide footprint, thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue — would be by far the biggest undertaking of Mr. Licht’s career in television. And he is joining the network at a time of turmoil.

Its newsroom was roiled by the stunning exit of Mr. Zucker, who commanded deep loyalty among anchors and correspondents. Its prime-time and morning ratings have been mired in third place behind rivals Fox News and MSNBC. And the looming takeover by Discovery has raised questions about the future direction of the network.

Mr. Licht is a co-creator of “Morning Joe,” the hugely successful MSNBC franchise that still dominates that network’s morning lineup. He jumped to CBS News in 2011, where he was widely credited with turning around the fortunes of “CBS This Morning,” adding the hosts Charlie Rose and Gayle King and introducing a chattier, more freewheeling format.

In 2016, CBS tapped Mr. Licht to take over “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” which had struggled in its early months to secure viewers and the critical praise enjoyed by Mr. Colbert’s predecessor, David Letterman.

Mr. Licht engineered a remarkable ratings turnaround, encouraging Mr. Colbert to more forcefully engage with current events and political news. He added live shows after major news events like election nights and State of the Union speeches. By 2017, Mr. Colbert had achieved something Mr. Letterman rarely did in his long career: besting NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in the ratings, a winning streak that continues five years later.


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