CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker took a jab at Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes, who was recently quoted as saying CNN had “thrown in the towel” on news coverage, saying the criticism is “silly," and adding that Ailes is trying to deflect attention from his soon-to-be-released unauthorized biography.
"We happen to be in the news business, unlike other fair and balanced networks,” he said Friday during the CNN portion of the TCA winter press tour, defending the network's coverage. “The Republican party is being run out of News Corp. headquarters being masqueraded as a cable channel.”
Zucker also downplayed rumors of departing Tonight Show host Jay Leno joining the company, adding that latenight programming is “not a priority for us at this time.”
He also squashed rumors about NBC News correspondent Ann Curry joining CNN. “Ann is a terrific talent and I have along relationship with her,” he said. “She’s under contract with NBC and not available at this time.”
Zucker said CNN will continue to offer news content in primetime, but will add more entertainment-based programming as he looks to broaden the news network’s audience. While Zucker said CNN won't abandon its news-based lineup, he added that he's not opposed to putting documentary movies and specials in an effort to increase viewership for the network.
“We want to remain essential in breaking news,” he said. “At the same time it’s not a growing niche and there are many places to get [news] information.”
He pointed to the diminished ratings of cable news networks – only HLN was up year to year in primetime in 2013 – as evidence that the category is struggling.
“That’s not a great story for cable news and we’re conscious of that."
Zucker did add that he is "very comfortable" with where Crossfire is in the ratings, noting that the relaunched news program is outperforming the network's daily average audience.
"I want CNN's daily average to be better and all of our programs to do better," he said.