May 25, 2017

Fox May Produce Clinton Biopic Reviled by G.O.P.

While NBC has come under heavy fire, especially from Republican critics, for agreeing to broadcast the series, the project may wind up being produced by another company: Fox Television Studios, the sister company of the conservative favorite, Fox News.

Leslie Oren, a spokesman for FTVS, as the studio is known, confirmed that NBC is in “the early stages” of discussions to bring the Fox unit in as the production company on the as yet unnamed mini-series, which will star Diane Lane as Mrs. Clinton.

“There is no deal yet,” Ms. Oren said. But should a deal be completed, FTVS would become the distributor of the film internationally. FTVS is the production arm of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment group.

It would also become something of an odd partner in what has become a contentious project, especially after Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, threatened to keep presidential debates involving Republican candidates off both NBC and its news channel MSNBC, if it went ahead with what he called a “promotional movie about the life of Hillary Clinton.”

But criticism of NBC’s decision to buy the film has also come from inside its news division, as two correspondents, Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell, have spoken out publicly suggesting the film would damage the reputation of NBC News.

Mr. Todd, the chief White House correspondent for the network, said, “this mini-series is a total nightmare for NBC News.” Ms. Mitchell, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC, called the movie “a really bad idea given the timing.”

NBC has been in the cross hairs of conservative critics for some time, mainly because its news division also runs MSNBC, which also makes no secret of its political bent — liberal rather than conservative. Both Mr. Todd and Ms. Mitchell host programs on MSNBC.

The position of NBC’s Entertainment division has been that the project is being produced entirely separately from the news division, and that there is a firewall between the divisions, with the news organization in no way responsible for the content.

Whether an association with a Fox company reduces the heat on the Clinton project seems unlikely, however, especially because in this case the criticism has also come from NBC News itself. One longtime senior news executive, who asked not to be identified criticizing the network, called the movie “wildly inappropriate for NBC to be doing.”

That reaction is largely based on the presumption that Mrs. Clinton will be a candidate in 2016. It is not based on the script for the film, which has not been written.

The back story of the project underscores the automatic interest that surrounds Mrs. Clinton, as well as the complicated corporate arrangements that often accompany Hollywood projects.

In this case, the project began as an idea hatched by Sherryl Clark, an independent producer. She took the idea of a Clinton movie to a company named Endgame, which finances and produces television programs and movies. The chairman of Endgame, James D. Stern, agreed to pick up the project with both he and Ms. Clark attached as executive producers.

They sought out a writer/director for the project as well as a star. In both cases they attracted Oscar nominees. Courtney Hunt, who wrote and directed the well-regarded independent film “Frozen River,” signed on to the project. Also, Diane Lane, who was nominated for an Academy Award for “Unfaithful,” agreed to play Mrs. Clinton.

A spokeswoman for Endgame, Gina Lang, said the project was then pitched around Hollywood to several broadcast and cable networks. Another executive involved in the project said several networks expressed interest. But NBC offered the best deal.

The chairman of NBC Entertainment, Robert Greenblatt, announced the acquisition of the project on July 27, one day after the deal with Endgame was concluded. Mr. Greenblatt said at the time that NBC would ensure the movie was on the air before Mrs. Clinton formally declared for the presidency to avoid any demands from other candidates for equal time.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/10/business/media/fox-may-produce-clinton-biopic-reviled-by-gop.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Olbermann Will Return to ESPN

ESPN is expected to announce on Wednesday that the former network mainstay Keith Olbermann, who contentiously departed in 1997, will return to host a one-hour, nightly show for ESPN2 later this year, according to three executives with knowledge of the deal but not authorized to speak about it publicly.

Olbermann, 54, became renowned for co-anchoring ESPN’s “SportsCenter” with Dan Patrick — arguably the most auspicious pairing in the history of the show or the network. He left the show briefly to help launch ESPN2 in October 1993.

The move to bring Olbermann back after a 16-year absence was the result of 14 months of intense discussion within ESPN and its parent, the Walt Disney Company.

Within ESPN, there was concern about asking Olbermann back because he left the network under emotionally charged circumstances and because it was feared by some that Olbermann had become too politicized as the host of his interim MSNBC program “Countdown,” which aired from 2003 through January 2011.

 On his new show, Olbermann will be free to discuss matters other than sports, including pop culture and current events, but not politics, the two-year pact specifies.

While some ESPN insiders reportedly voiced the opinion that Olbermann was part of the network’s past, not its future, his star quality is almost unmatched in the sports television arena; he seems to draw a crowd. Rumors had been bubbling for weeks that ESPN would put aside the difficulties of the past and invite Olbermann back.

Some of Olbermann’s years since leaving ESPN have been professionally stormy, but controversy has always been part of his public persona. While some of his other network tenures had rocky periods, and some ended badly, his sports knowledge and on-air charisma have never been questioned.

ESPN executives said Olbermann will help it face the challenge presented by the launch of Fox Sports 1, a rival all-sports network that just announced plans for a potentially similar series to star Regis Philbin, 82.

Richard Sandomir contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/17/sports/after-16-year-absence-olbermann-is-said-to-be-returning-to-espn-to-host-show.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

NBC News Said to Pick Deborah Turness as Chief

Ms. Turness, if appointed, would be the first woman to become president of a network television news division in the United States, succeeding Steve Capus, who stepped down from the position in February after nearly eight years.

A spokeswoman for NBC News, a unit of Comcast’s NBCUniversal, declined to comment. In an e-mail message on Friday, Ms. Turness said she could not respond to what she called speculation.

But others with knowledge of the appointment said that her promotion could be announced as early as Monday.

Ms. Turness’s name surfaced last month in a Los Angeles Times article that identified her as a candidate. Though she is not widely known in the television news industry in the United States, Ms. Turness has strong credentials. She has worked at ITN, a British producer of television news, for 25 years. ITN provides three daily newscasts to ITV, a broadcaster that is one of the BBC’s main rivals in Britain, under the banner of ITV News. Ms. Turness has overseen those newscasts as the editor of ITV News since 2004.

When asked about Ms. Turness’s future, a spokeswoman for ITV News said, “We don’t comment on speculation.”

Mr. Capus’s departure was spurred partly by his frustration with a new management structure set up in July, which folded NBC News and two cable news channels, MSNBC and CNBC, into a new unit called the NBCUniversal News Group. The group is led by Pat Fili-Krushel, and Ms. Turness would report to her, according to the people with knowledge of the appointment.

The next president of NBC News will face an array of challenges. NBC has the highest-rated evening newscast (“NBC Nightly News”) and a big source of revenue (the cable news channel MSNBC) that its rivals envy. But it also has a morning show, “Today,” that has sunk to second place behind ABC’s “Good Morning America,” resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue.

More broadly, NBC News faces the same ratings difficulties as other television networks, as well as fresh competition on the Internet.

Ms. Turness is used to competition, given that the BBC usually could outnumber and outspend her at ITV News. She is described by colleagues there as ferociously energetic and savvy about what viewers want to see.

In a 2010 profile in the British newspaper The Guardian, she was quoted as saying: “The battleground now is in news, it’s about quality. News is the best drama on television because it’s real.”

“She was here for at least one presidential election cycle,” said Simon Marks, who worked at ITN in the late 1980s and knew Ms. Turness in Washington in the 1990s. “I think she’ll be a fantastic breath of fresh air in the elite world of network news in New York.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/11/business/media/nbc-to-name-new-head-of-news-division.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly Renews Contract

Ms. Van Susteren, who signed a long-term contract this week, according to her husband, John Coale, may move out of the 10 p.m. time slot that she has held since 2002. That would open up the hour for Ms. Kelly, now an afternoon anchor, who has long been mentioned as a candidate for a prime time position.

Mr. Coale, a lawyer who represents Ms. Van Susteren in contract negotiations, said he was not aware of any impending scheduling changes. But in a brief telephone interview on Tuesday, he suggested that she would happily move to an earlier hour, perhaps sometime later this year.

Mr. Coale learned in December that he had cancer. (Ms. Van Susteren wrote a blog post about his condition in February, after he had surgery; she did not specify what type of cancer he had.) He is recovering now, he said on Tuesday, and, “I’d like to spend some quality time with my wife, at least before 11 p.m.” He emphasized that he was speaking for himself, not for Ms. Van Susteren, who declined to comment when reached via e-mail.

A prime time change would be, by Fox News scheduling standards, seismic; the channel has had a remarkably consistent lineup of hosts and shows, much to the chagrin of competitors like MSNBC and CNN, which have not. Fox also has its two biggest stars, the 8 p.m. host Bill O’Reilly and the 9 p.m. host Sean Hannity, under contract for several more years.

A Fox spokeswoman, asked to confirm the new deals for Ms. Kelly and Ms. Van Susteren, said, “We will neither confirm nor deny any contract discussions.” Several other people with knowledge of the situation said that Ms. Kelly had renewed her contract. Some of her fans congratulated her on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon after reading about it online.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because contract talks are usually conducted in secret.

Although some contract renewals are mere formalities, Ms. Kelly’s was not; her future has been the subject of media speculation since late last year. She met with the heads of at least two other television networks. But she decided to stay at Fox News, where she has hosted the two-hour afternoon program “America Live” and co-anchored special reports on election nights for the last three years.

She was widely noticed on election night last year when she walked through the corridors of Fox and asked the channel’s voting analysts about Karl Rove’s assertions that the channel had called Ohio for President Obama prematurely. They, not surprisingly, defended their decision. The moment became a viral hit and bolstered Ms. Kelly’s personal brand as a part of Fox’s news side, not its opinion side.

Not long after that, the chief executive of Fox News, Roger Ailes, acknowledged that “a lot of people will try to recruit her” when her contract came due.

In an interview with TVNewser, Mr. Ailes said, “We’d love her to stay here and be even a bigger star.” He added: “I’d be stunned if she wanted to go to any other cable channel. That’s a real dive off a high cliff. If somebody wanted her to host the ‘Today’ show or something, she’d have to look at that, I suppose.”

Earlier this year, Ms. Kelly spoke with other channels, including CNN, which was very interested in hiring her, according to one of the people who spoke on condition of anonymity. Her representatives also sought a number of meetings with executives at ABC, stirring speculation that she might be in contention for a spot on “Good Morning America.” But “G.M.A.,” the newly No. 1 network morning show, led by Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos, has a rather full bench at the moment, and ABC’s conversations with Ms. Kelly went nowhere.

Ms. Kelly’s 1 to 3 p.m. program was watched by an average of 1.1 million viewers in the first quarter of the year, slightly more than the programs before and after it. Prime time hours are more coveted than daytime hours because they generally have higher ratings; Mr. O’Reilly, for instance, attracted nearly three million viewers a night in the first quarter.

But Ms. Van Susteren’s 10 p.m. program, “On the Record,” has been a sore spot on the channel’s schedule. The program had an average of 1.43 million viewers in the first quarter. In the demographic that matters most to advertisers, viewers ages 25 to 54, Ms. Van Susteren attracted 250,000 a night, only 35,000 more than her competitor on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell. At the end of the quarter, MSNBC said in a news release that Fox’s “On the Record” had recorded its “worst quarterly performance ever.”

Still, as Ms. Van Susteren has noted on her blog as recently as last month, the show “has been No. 1 for 11 plus years” among total viewers, a winning streak that has few parallels in the news industry.

One of the people with knowledge of the situation cautioned on Tuesday that “nothing’s decided.”

Another person noted that no change was imminent because Ms. Kelly is pregnant with her third child. She said in February that her baby was due this summer.

Mr. Ailes, meanwhile, has one other contract negotiation coming up this year. Shepard Smith, the channel’s 7 p.m. host, has a deal that expires at the end of the year, according to TV Guide. In an interview last month, Mr. Smith said he had had no contract talks yet, but he also said: “I love it at Fox News. I love working for Roger Ailes. I want to do what’s best for everybody involved.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/08/business/media/fox-news-anchor-megyn-kelly-renews-contract.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Plouffe, Ex-Obama Adviser, Joins Bloomberg Television

The unusual arrangement is indicative of Mr. Plouffe’s desire to become a consultant to the business world after two decades in politics, most famously as the manager of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. After the campaign Mr. Plouffe served as a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. He departed the White House in January after President Obama’s re-election; his deal with Bloomberg is his first big announcement since.

In a statement, Mr. Plouffe said, “I am excited for both the on- and off-air relationship with Bloomberg. Their programming lends itself to fuller discussion, which given the complexity of the issues before our country, is of great value.”

Mr. Plouffe was courted by Bloomberg and its bigger TV rival, CNBC, as well as other television networks.

“Anytime you can add a David Plouffe to your team, you do it,” Andrew Morse, the head of Bloomberg Television in the United States, said in a telephone interview. He called Mr. Plouffe “one of the great strategic political and business minds in this country.”

Having an advisory role was important to Mr. Plouffe as he positions himself outside the political arena. (He told The New York Times in January that he was done with presidential campaigns.) Mr. Morse wouldn’t elaborate on what sort of advice Bloomberg would seek from Mr. Plouffe, but the network has interests in Washington, including an active effort to force Comcast to carry its network alongside CNBC on cable lineups. Bloomberg also has practical concerns like any other business.

Mr. Plouffe will also appear frequently as a commentator, the same way that another one of Mr. Obama’s former senior advisers, David Axelrod, appears on NBC and MSNBC.

ABC News struck a similar deal two months ago with Matthew Dowd, who was the chief strategist of George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004. Mr. Dowd, a contributor to ABC since 2007, is now a senior strategic adviser to the news division and a special correspondent.

“Matthew’s strategic and tactical insights will be helpful to all of us as we look to expand our reach and impact across all of our business,” the ABC News president Ben Sherwood said in a memorandum about the dual positions in February.

Mr. Dowd is also a political contributor to Bloomberg.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/26/business/media/plouffe-ex-obama-adviser-joins-bloomberg-television.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: MSNBC Announces Replacement for Chris Hayes

MSNBC on Tuesday named Steve Kornacki the new host of “Up,” a weekend morning panel discussion program that is about to be vacated by its original host, Chris Hayes.

Mr. Kornacki will take over when Mr. Hayes moves to the 8 p.m. time slot on weekdays, a change that was announced by the cable news channel last week.

MSNBC did not specify a start date for Mr. Kornacki, but the channel has previously said that Mr. Hayes will start at 8 p.m. on April 1.

With the announcement on Tuesday, MSNBC is once again promoting from within. Mr. Kornacki, a senior political writer for Salon since 2010, has been a guest on the channel for years; in fact, as Salon’s editor in chief noted last year, the site actually approached him about the job after seeing him on MSNBC’s “Hardball.”

Last summer MSNBC made Mr. Kornacki, 33, a co-host of “The Cycle,” a 3 p.m. political conversation with three other young hosts, Touré, Krystal Ball and S.E. Cupp. The ratings for “The Cycle” have pleased MSNBC executives, despite the tough middle-of-the-day time slot, and Mr. Kornacki has been mentioned recently as a rising star at the channel.

MSNBC indicated on Tuesday that he would leave “The Cycle” to take on the new assignment, but did not immediately name a successor.

But the announcement resolves what viewers of “Up” have wanted to know since last week: would the in-depth talk show remain in some form, and if so, who would lead it?

“Up,” which was started 18 months ago in an expansion of MSNBC’s progressive-minded programming, is more influential than the Nielsen ratings imply. It had about 139,000 viewers ages 25 to 54 last month, but it attracts a fiercely loyal fan base that typically gets a Twitter hashtag, “#uppers,” trending online during every episode. “Up” also sets a tone for MSNBC’s weekend programming, and the president of MSNBC, Phil Griffin, often mentions Mr. Hayes when describing the future direction of MSNBC.

Mr. Griffin said in a statement on Wednesday, “I give so much credit to the ‘Up’ team who created appointment viewing on the weekends for us and some of the smartest conversations on television. Steve has a great political mind and his ability to connect with viewers made him a natural fit to continue driving that dialogue.”

Mr. Hayes wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, “Psyched to pass the ‘Up’ franchise to Steve Kornacki. #Uppers are in excellent hands.” A few minutes later Mr. Kornacki wrote, Mr. Hayes “and his team have built something pretty amazing. Excited to be stepping in.”

The channel’s chain of dominos started to fall last week when Ed Schultz, the former host of the 8 p.m. hour, announced that he was stepping aside. He will relocate to the weekends starting next month, enabling MSNBC to expand live political programming to the 5 and 6 p.m. hours on Saturday and Sunday. (Currently the channel runs documentaries at those times.)

MSNBC then named Mr. Hayes the new 8 p.m. host. Some at the channel had expected Ezra Klein, an MSNBC contributor and Washington Post columnist, to get the 8 p.m. job or the weekend morning job. The announcement about Mr. Kornacki on Tuesday suggested that the channel has something else in mind for him — perhaps a time slot in prime time on the weekends.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/19/msnbc-announces-replacement-for-chris-hayes/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: For CNN, Cruise Ship Coverage by ‘Air, Land and Sea’

There are a number of ways to get ahead in the cable news world. One way is partisan talk about the news, as exemplified by shows on MSNBC and Fox News. Another way is personality-based — think Bill O’Reilly, Joe Scarborough and Rachel Maddow.

CNN on Thursday seemed to try another way: captivating, nonstop cruise ship coverage.

The cable news channel threw everything it had at the odyssey of the Carnival Cruise Line ship Triumph, which was being towed toward port in Mobile, Ala., after four days stranded at sea. CNN had a helicopter circling the cruise ship, a reporter at sea on a boat nearby, and two more reporters on land.

Naturally, it promoted its coverage as coming from “air, land and sea.” “Before you scorn: imagine being on board,” the executive producer of CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” Jonathan Wald, wrote on Twitter.

The coverage had all the hallmarks of Jeff Zucker, the former “Today” show producer and NBC chief executive who took over CNN Worldwide last month. Mr. Zucker has been trying to take advantage of CNN’s news resources as he attempts to revitalize the low-rated channel. The cruise ship story was a no-brainer to him: from a producer’s standpoint, it has high stakes, human drama and a logical beginning, middle and end. The ship is expected to finally reach port Thursday night.

On Thursday morning, CNN fired off a press release about the channel’s coverage plans and said one of its prime time anchors, Erin Burnett, was on the way to Mobile so she could televise the family reunions. It even said its channel seen outside the United States, CNN International, would simulcast the live coverage.

Television news producers are prone to hyping and over-covering stories, of course. That much isn’t new. But what CNN did with the cruise ship stood out because Fox and MSNBC mostly stuck with their usual stories about politics, business, crime and culture. MSNBC barely even mentioned the cruise ship in its newscasts on Thursday.

Partly that’s because the stranded ship hasn’t been a particularly visual story — but CNN changed that by chartering a helicopter and a boat for the day. Around noon, the channel caught the attention of media reporters and a few television competitors when it carried aerial pictures of the cruise ship accompanied by the words “CNN Live Exclusive.” The anchor Ashleigh Banfield announced that viewers were seeing “the first image of this ship as it approaches shore,” meaning the first live pictures — photographs had been available for days.

CNN also set up a camera with a long zoom lens on land so it could show the cruise ship 30 miles out at sea.

Ms. Banfield at one point interviewed a 12-year-old girl, Rebecca Poret, who was on the ship, and the girl’s mother, Mary, who was watching CNN at home. As mother and daughter talked, CNN’s on-screen graphic didn’t hesitate to play up the emotions of the moment.

12-YR-OLD TO MOM: “I’M COLD, BUT I’M GOOD”
Mom promises to bring blankets, food to meet her

With a little prodding from Ms. Banfield, Rebecca came out to a balcony on the ship so that the helicopter camera could zoom in on her. “They’re waving to us now!” Ms. Banfield exclaimed, adding, “You must be beyond elated to be able to see your daughter.”

“I’m very excited,” Ms. Poret said. The CNN graphic read:

CNN SHOWS MOM STRANDED GIRL
First time mother has seen daughter in a week

All the camera angles and interviews made the coverage more captivating and, some would say, entertaining, turning the news into something that looked and felt a bit like a reality show.

CNN said it would stay with the story all day. Even when the channel changed topic in the 1 p.m. hour, it put a live shot of the cruise ship in a small box in the corner of the screen.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/for-cnn-cruise-ship-coverage-by-air-land-and-sea/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Makers of Violent Video Games Marshal Support to Fend Off Regulation

The $60 billion industry is facing intense political pressure from an unlikely alliance of critics who say that violent imagery in video games has contributed to a culture of violence. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. met with industry executives on Friday to discuss the concerns, highlighting the issue’s prominence.

No clear link has emerged between the Connecticut rampage and the gunman Adam Lanza’s interest in video games. Even so, the industry’s detractors want to see a federal study on the impact of violent gaming, as well as cigarette-style warning labels and other measures to curb the games’ graphic imagery.

“Connecticut has changed things,” Representative Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican and a frequent critic of what he terms the shocking violence of games, said in an interview. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something.”

Gun laws have been the Obama administration’s central focus in considering responses to the shootings. But a violent media culture is being scrutinized, too, alongside mental health laws and policies.

“The stool has three legs, and this is one of them,” Mr. Wolf said of violent video games.

Studies on the impact of gaming violence offer conflicting evidence. But science aside, public rhetoric has clearly shifted since the shootings, with politicians and even the National Rifle Association — normally a fan of shooting games — quick to blame video games and Hollywood movies for inuring children to violence.

“I don’t let games like Call of Duty in my house,” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said this week on MSNBC. “You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing Call of Duty and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence.”

Residents in Southington, Conn., 30 miles northeast of Newtown, went so far as to organize a rally to destroy violent games. (The event was canceled this week.) Mr. Biden, meeting with some of the industry’s biggest manufacturers and retailers, withheld judgment on whether graphic games fuel violence. But he added quickly, “You all know the judgment other people have made.”

Industry executives are steeling for a political battle, and they have strong support from Congress as well as from the courts.

Industry representatives have already spoken with more than a dozen lawmakers’ offices since the shootings, urging them to resist threatened regulations. They say video games are a harmless, legally protected diversion already well regulated by the industry itself through ratings that restricting some games to “mature” audiences.

With game makers on the defensive, they have begun pulling together scientific research, legal opinions and marketing studies to make their case to federal officials.

“This has been litigated all the way to the Supreme Court,” Michael Gallagher, chief executive of the industry’s main lobbying arm, said in an interview, referring to a 2011 ruling that rejected a California ban on selling violent games to minors on First Amendment grounds.

Twenty years ago, with graphic video games still a nascent technology, manufacturers faced similar threats of a crackdown over violent games. Even Captain Kangaroo — Bob Keeshan — lobbied for stricter oversight. The industry, heading off government action, responded at that time by creating the ratings labels, similar to movie ratings, that are ubiquitous on store shelves today.

This time, with a more formidable presence in Washington, the industry is not so willing to discuss voluntary concessions.

Game makers have spent more than $20 million since 2008 on federal lobbying, and millions more on campaign donations.

Mr. Gallagher’s group, the Entertainment Software Association, has five outside lobbying firms to push its interests in Washington. And the industry has enjoyed not only a hands-off approach from Congress, which has rejected past efforts to toughen regulations, but also tax breaks that have spurred sharp growth.

Game makers even have their own bipartisan Congressional caucus, with 39 lawmakers joining to keep the industry competitive.

Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/12/us/politics/makers-of-violent-video-games-marshal-support-to-fend-off-regulation.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: CNN Announces Jeffrey Zucker as President

Jeff Zucker, in 2010, when he was the president and chief executive of NBC Universal.Kevin Keelan/Clarion Pictures Jeff Zucker, in 2010, when he was the president and chief executive of NBC Universal.

8:00 p.m. | Updated
CNN announced on Thursday that it would install Jeffrey Zucker, the former chief executive of NBC, as president of CNN Worldwide.

The announcement was the culmination of a four-month search to find a replacement for Jim Walton, who had led CNN to record profits even as ratings for its American network, CNN/U.S., hit record lows. The network announced in July that Mr. Walton would step down at the end of the year.

What’s Next?
Many Paths for CNN

Jeff Zucker no doubt is getting much advice on how to revitalize the network: maybe add more celebrities or double-down on news or documentaries.

Mr. Zucker, 47, will be expected to revive the American network to competitive standing against its rivals, Fox News and MSNBC, even as it maintains its position as a nonpartisan news network, versus those speaking from the right (Fox) and left (MSNBC). Mr. Zucker said he would start his new assignment in January.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Zucker, who said he began discussing the job with CNN executives after Labor Day, summarized what would be his chief challenge: expanding the network’s appeal beyond times when there is breaking news.

“CNN has to find the right programming that exists in between the 25 nights a year when it is most relevant,” he said. “Beyond the fact that we are committed to news and journalism, everything else is open for discussion.”

Mr. Zucker will arrive at CNN carrying the baggage of the collapse of NBC’s own broadcast network, which fell from longtime leadership in prime time to last place under Mr. Zucker, even as the company’s cable networks, including MSNBC, thrived. But Mr. Zucker also brings a reputation for leadership in news, which he forged in two tenures overseeing NBC’s “Today” show to dominance in morning ratings and profits.

Time Warner’s chief executive, Jeffrey L. Bewkes, and his deputy, Phil Kent, the head of Turner Broadcasting, were known to have sought candidates with the right combination of management skills, programming expertise and journalistic credibility to oversee CNN’s many channels and Web sites. There was a shortlist, and Mr. Zucker was on it from the beginning.

Walter Isaacson, who ran CNN from 2001 to 2003, preceding Mr. Walton, said Mr. Zucker was a smart choice because “CNN has great journalists, but what it has needed is an imaginative programmer who knows how to build good shows.”

Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, said that if anyone could “bring CNN back,” Mr. Zucker could. Referring to Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman, Mr. Griffin said: “Ailes on one side, Zucker on the other: Game on.”

This year, Mr. Zucker joined with his longtime friend Katie Couric to produce “Katie,” the syndicated talk show that started in September. The series had its best ratings yet last week.

Mr. Zucker said he had not been actively looking for another job when the CNN position came open. “You can’t come from the background I come from — news, television, great brands — and not be unbelievably intrigued by this,” he said.

At CNN, Mr. Zucker will report to Mr. Kent. He will be based at CNN’s bureau in New York. Mr. Walton was based in Atlanta, where CNN has had its headquarters since its inception in 1980.

Mr. Zucker steered clear of any specific plans he might have for overhauling CNN’s programming. But while underscoring CNN’s commitment to presenting news without the partisan slant of its cable news competitors, Mr. Zucker said several times that he would be looking to make CNN’s programs “more vibrant and exciting” and that news consisted of more than just “politics and war.”

As for examples of what he might mean by redefining news, Mr. Zucker mentioned a coming weekend show on CNN hosted by the chef and world traveler Anthony Bourdain. He also cited the “nonfiction programming” being produced on other cable networks, like Discovery, as part of the competitive landscape that CNN has to be a part of.

“When I say nonfiction programming, I’m not talking about reality shows,” Mr. Zucker said. “I’m not talking about ‘Honey Boo Boo.’ But there is plenty of nonfiction programming that could fit very well under the CNN brand.”

He added, “We know that continuing to do exactly what we’ve been doing will leave us exactly where we’ve been. And that’s not good enough.”

Mr. Kent said that as a cable network, CNN had to find a way to build a core constituency of viewers who considered the network essential viewing.

Still, Mr. Zucker acknowledged that the lineup of CNN prime-time shows, which have greatly lagged their competitors on Fox News and MSNBC, would be a “top priority.” Mr. Kent said one of the continuing issues he expected the new president to address, because of Mr. Zucker’s history as a hands-on news producer, was the subpar execution of some of the network’s programs.

Mr. Kent also said Mr. Zucker’s expertise in morning television was a “wonderful byproduct” of his hiring. Both executives said CNN was likely to redesign the network’s morning program to make it more competitive with its cable rivals and the morning shows on the broadcast networks.

Mr. Zucker acknowledged the negative marks he had received for his handling of the entertainment operation at NBC when he was the chief executive there, saying, “there is no doubt I made mistakes” running NBC Entertainment. “And I own them.”

But both he and Mr. Kent stressed that in joining a full-time news business, Mr. Zucker would be returning to the area of his greatest success and expertise. “I’m excited by the possibilities,” Mr. Zucker said.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/cnn-makes-it-official-zucker-to-be-new-president/?partner=rss&emc=rss

MSNBC, Its Ratings Rising, Gains Ground on Fox News

“I think that’s pretty significant,” Mr. Matthews said, optimistically, as a commercial break wrapped up. Virginia, a state that had voted to elect a Democratic presidential candidate only once in 40 years — Barack Obama in 2008 — was not leaning toward Mitt Romney as some Republicans had predicted it would.

Inside the NBC “Sunday Night Football” studio that MSNBC was borrowing for the night, the stage manager loudly called out, “Here we go.” Ms. Maddow softly repeated, “Here we go,” and reported the news to three million viewers.

When President Obama won Virginia and most of the other battleground states on Tuesday night, ensuring himself a second term as president, some at MSNBC felt as if they had won as well.

During Mr. Obama’s first term, MSNBC underwent a metamorphosis from a CNN also-ran to the anti-Fox, and handily beat CNN in the ratings along the way. Now that it is known, at least to those who cannot get enough politics, as the nation’s liberal television network, the challenge in the next four years will be to capitalize on that identity.

MSNBC, a unit of NBCUniversal, has a long way to go to overtake the Fox News Channel, a unit of News Corporation: on most nights this year, Fox had two million more viewers than MSNBC.

But the two channels, which skew toward an audience that is 55 or older, are on average separated by fewer than 300,000 viewers in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic that advertisers desire. On three nights in a row after the election last week, MSNBC — whose hosts reveled in Mr. Obama’s victory — had more viewers than Fox in that demographic.

“We’re closer to Fox than we’ve ever been,” said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, who has been trying to overtake Fox for years. “All of this is great for 2013, 2014 to keep building.”

In some ways MSNBC, which until 2005 was partly owned by Microsoft, is where Fox was a decade ago — in the early stages of profiting from its popularity. The channel receives a per-subscriber fee of 30 cents a month from cable operators; CNN receives twice that, and Fox News at least three times as much.

“When Microsoft was involved with MSNBC, it was viewed as kind of lacking in direction; I don’t think the channel had much leverage raising rates,” said Derek Baine, a senior analyst for SNL Kagan. “Maybe they will have some more leverage on this postelection.”

If Fox sees itself as the voice of the opposition to the president, MSNBC sees itself as the voice of Mr. Obama’s America. Its story resembles that of so many other cable channels. It hit on a winning strategy (antiwar liberalism led by Keith Olbermann at 8 p.m.), added similar shows (like Ms. Maddow’s at 9 p.m., which became the channel’s tent pole when Mr. Olbermann left in 2011) and then sold its audience as something more: a community of passionate, like-minded people.

Many progressives (and conservatives) now view the channel as a megaphone for liberal politicians, ideas and attacks against those who disagree. Such a megaphone — clearly marked, always on — has never existed before on television.

It has all happened rather suddenly. During the presidential election in 2008, Ms. Maddow was so new that she was still getting lost in the labyrinth of Rockefeller Center. And MSNBC was so timid about applying a political point of view that it paired an NBC News anchor, David Gregory, with the outspoken Mr. Olbermann on election night. The awkward pairing symbolized the split in American journalism between those who embodied a political point of view and those who said they did not.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/12/business/media/msnbc-its-ratings-rising-gains-ground-on-fox-news.html?partner=rss&emc=rss