Former Dick Clark Productions Chief Executive Mark Shapiro has emerged as a candidate for the top job at the cable news channel CNN, according to people familiar with the matter.
Shapiro, who prior to running Dick Clark Productions was a top programming executive at ESPN, would be an unusual choice for the CNN job, given that he does not have a traditional hard news background.
However, Shapiro has strong production chops from his days at ESPN, which has its own large news division. He is seen as an innovative executive unafraid to take chances. He also is known for having sharp elbows and for being confrontational at times with talent and other executives.
The person most often mentioned for the top job at CNN is former NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker, who currently is producing Katie Couric’s daytime talk show. Interestingly, Zucker and Shapiro are friendly with each other.
The clock is ticking for CNN and its parent Time Warner Inc. to name a new leader for the news channel. Jim Walton, the longtime president of CNN Worldwide is resigning at the end of the year and Time Warner brass wants to have a new leader in place in the next few weeks.
CNN has fallen behind Fox News and MSNBC in the ratings race, and one of the common complaints against it is that its programming has become somewhat stale. When Walton announced his plans to step down, he said, “CNN needs new thinking,” as well as a new leader who “brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan, one who will build on our great foundation and will commit to seeing it through.”
The approach to Shapiro came only recently and follows his stepping down as head of Dick Clark Productions in the wake of the sale of the company to Guggenheim Partners.
Both Zucker and Shapiro rose up the ranks of the entertainment industry very fast. Zucker started as an intern working on the Olympics for NBC and eventually took over the morning news program “Today” and ran the entertainment division before becoming chief executive of all of NBCUniversal. He stumbled though in his later years at NBC as ratings fell sharply and an experiment to put Jay Leno in prime time was a costly failure.
Shapiro was also a wunderkind, and took over running ESPN content in his early 30s. He had much success with news and information programming but also experienced some missteps along the way -- including hiring Rush Limbaugh for ESPN’s NFL pregame show, which badly backfired.
Shapiro is still consulting for Dick Clark Productions. He is also on the boards of Los Angeles Times parent Tribune Co., Live Nation and pizza chain Papa John’s.
A CNN spokeswoman declined to comment.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.