CNN President Jeff Zucker said the network has no plans to abandon hard news even as it seeks to broaden its programming and audience with more documentary and unscripted fare.
Speaking Friday at the semi-annual Television Critics Assn. Press Tour in Pasadena, Zucker said, "CNN is not and never will abandon our first and fundamental brand equity, which is news and breaking news."
Zucker, who took over as head of CNN a year ago after spending many years at NBC as a news executive and then chief executive of NBCUniversal, did say he would like CNN's on-air presence to have more energy.
"One of the things I’d like to see in CNN programming is a little bit more passion," Zucker said.
At the same time, Zucker said, CNN has to acknowledge that relying strictly on hard news and being a video wire service won't generate ratings in between big stories.
"There are many places to get that kind of news and information," he said. "We want to broaden out our offerings to our audience."
CNN has already had success with documentaries. "Blackfish," a documentary about killer whales in captivity, generated strong ratings for the cable channel when it made its debut last fall. CNN is also entering the unscripted area as well. It will premiere "Chicagoland," which will attempt to provide an inside look at the bureaucracy of the Windy City.
Although CNN is trying to expand how it defines news, Zucker dismissed speculation that "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, who is stepping down next month for Jimmy Fallon, could be part of the mix at the news network.
"That's really not a priority for us at this time," Zucker said when asked about a late night comedy show. Leno joining CNN is not something that's "in the cards."
Asked about recent remarks from Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes that CNN was getting out of the news business, Zucker fired back that his rival was only trying to deflect attention from a negative biography of him that is being released this month.
"We’re in the new bsiness, unlike some other 'fair and balanced' news networks," Zucker said, mocking the Fox News slogan.
As for "The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News and Divided a Country" by Gabriel Sherman: Zucker said from what he's heard of the biography, it "confirms basically what we've known all along," which is that the Republican Party is being run by Fox News, which is "masquerading as a news channel."
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