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CNN is ending ‘This Is Life With Lisa Ling,’ a casualty of budget cuts

Lisa Ling, with long black hair and a black moto jacket, looks at the camera.
Journalist Lisa Ling in Santa Monica on Sept. 29, 2021.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The CNN documentary series “This Is Life With Lisa Ling” will end its run on the network this year, a casualty of the news channel’s recently announced budget reductions.

Ling confirmed to The Times that the ninth season of the series, where she often embeds herself in situations to report on the margins of American society, will be the last. The program’s final six-episode run begins Nov. 27 on CNN at 7 and 10 p.m. Pacific.

“I was hoping to get to 10 seasons, but we fell short of that,” Ling said in a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles. “I would like to do many, many more seasons, especially right now, when we are existing in these bubbles and we follow people who espouse what we believe. In some ways, we’ve cut ourselves off from really getting to know people who might be different or think differently than we do.”

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Lisa Ling tours a RealDoll factory on her CNN series, "This Is Life."
Lisa Ling tours a RealDoll factory on her CNN series, “This Is Life.”
(CNN)

“This Is Life” debuted in 2014 and is currently the longest-running show under the CNN Original Series banner, created to bring nonfiction films and series to the network that could attract viewers in slow news periods.

COVID-19 forced Ling to pivot from immersion journalism to deep history dives, including her CNN series connecting hate against Asian Americans and more to today’s tensions.

“Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” was the biggest hit to come out of the unit run by Amy Entelis, CNN executive vice president for talent and content development. CNN Original Series, which has brought awards, younger audiences and new advertisers to the network, has six projects set to run on CNN.

Changes are likely ahead for the division. Last month, CNN Chief Executive Chris Licht told staff there will be significant cost reductions at the network, as parent Warner Bros. Discovery has a mandate to bring down costs at the recently merged company. As a result, the CNN Original Series unit will no longer acquire programs or films from outside production companies such as Part2 Pictures, the makers of “This Is Life.”

According to one person at the network familiar with the discussions who was not authorized to comment publicly, Licht still wants CNN to make long-form programming and has asked Entelis to explore how it can be done in-house.

“We are extremely proud of the work we produced together and with our partners at Part2 Pictures,” the network said in a statement. “The important seeds planted by Lisa will continue to grow at CNN as we remain committed to shining a light on underreported stories and the people who make up the fabric of America.”

“This Is Life” is the rare news show that takes serious, in-depth looks at unusual topics, trends and groups such as Satan worshippers, polygamists, swingers and sex workers, often putting a human face on what might otherwise seem like sensational topics.

Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins will co-anchor ‘CNN This Morning,’ the first major programming change at the network under new boss Chris Licht.

During the pandemic, when shutdowns limited the production’s mobility, Ling devoted an entire season to historical examples of prejudice and violence against marginalized and ethnically diverse communities, including Asian Americans.

This season, Ling’s topics include the impact of virtual reality and artificial intelligence and what it means to the future of real human interaction.

In December, Ling will devote an hour to the mental illness crisis in Los Angeles and how it ties into the city’s homeless encampments. The episode opens with Ling’s first-hand experience: Her husband and daughter were confronted and threatened by a homeless man in Santa Monica who was later arrested for burglary. Ling tracks down the man and interviews him after his incarceration.

Ling said she is hopeful “This Is Life” can land on another network or a streaming service.

“I’m not done,” she said. “I personally don’t want to live in a nonfiction world of cooking shows and true crime. I think there is an audience for depth.”

Separately, NBC News announced it hired CNN “Early Start” anchor Laura Jarrett as a senior legal correspondent. The daughter of former Obama administration senior advisor Valerie Jarrett was with CNN for six years.


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