Piers Morgan is making good on his promise to Deadline that he was “about to” lock down his new CNN show’s Executive Producer. I’ve confirmed that hard news veteran Jonathan Wald, the former CNBC topper who left last year after taking the business channel to new ratings highs, is in negotiations with Morgan and the new CNN head Ken Jautz to lead the news channel’s replacement show for Larry King Live. (Broadcasting & Cable reported this first today.) Trust me, he won’t come cheap. But it’s hard for me to imagine that, given all his experience, Wald would be content running just one show when he’s been in charge of entire programming schedules. I can’t help but wonder if this is a way in for Wald at CNN which certainly could use his proven ability to get cable news ratings and keep them.
Prior to CNBC, Wald held multiple EP gigs at NBC News including leading the Today show and Tom Brokaw’s NBC Nightly News. He’s currently on the adjunct faculty at Columbia Journalism School where he and his father have taught courses. Wald’s father, Richard C. Wald, was formerly the president of NBC News and longtime Roone Arledge deputy at ABC News, and the younger Wald has said he inherited the same lifelong passion for TV news. (In past interviews, Jonathan Wald has noted that when Captain Kangaroo was interrupted early one morning for a news bulletin about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, he ran and broke the news to his mom.) By age 17, Wald had a spot as a desk assistant at NBC News in the summers before and during college. On the advice of Brokaw, Wald took an entry-level job at the NBC affiliate in Boston and quickly rose to become producer of the morning and noon news broadcasts. In 1993, Wald returned to the NBC Nightly News and held a series of production jobs (including as a traveling producer for then promising national correspondent Brian Williams) until he was named the No. 2 executive for the network’s nightly news broadcast in 1998. He took over the top slot in 2001.
Wald was moved to the Executive Producer of NBC’s cash cow Today show but the job was short-lived: he was removed 16 months later despite being on top in the ratings because of reports he had “lost the confidence” of anchors Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. He ended up at CNBC two years later where Wald almost singlehandedly turned around the cable business channel. He was credited for a double-digit ratings hike in 2006 and 2007. And, in 2008, Wald also expanded its business news into primetime and weekends with investigatory documentaries and breaking news specials. The Scam of the Century about Bernie Madoff and Marijuana, Inc investigations were the highest-rated programs in CNBC history. But just when the SVP for business news was riding a ratings spike on financial crisis reporting, Wald made news himself by walking away from CNBC in early 2009 over a reported salary impasse. It had followed months of negotiations and he left when his contract was set to expire on March 31st. (Wald told the Daily Beast: “They wanted me to stay, I wanted to stay — we just couldn’t in the end work out a deal we could both be happy with.” In fact, Rachel Sklar wrote an excellent summary of Wald’s CNBC career and I’ve borrowed from it here.) Wald had become known for “throwing some sharp elbows, and had his fair share of frenemies in high and low places”. But he also developed a reputation for staff loyalty by “protecting everybody”.
Meanwhile, Morgan told Deadline earlier this week his production team needs to be finalized before guests are signed. He also said that he’s planning big changes to the interview slot he inherits in January. “The format, everything, will change. I’m not just going to be another man sitting in the CNN studio wearing red braces… What I would say is that there will be significant format changes, and the show will look and feel different and distinctive to Larry’s. I don’t want to copy him because he’s a legend. You don’t follow Sinatra at the Sands and try and warble My Way…” Morgan also told Deadline his mission is to help boost CNN’s sagging primetime line-up against Fox News, MSNBC, and other competition. “When it comes to my rivals, however long it takes, I’m going to be there to win.” Morgan says, “The main message I want to communicate is that I intend this show to be a game-changer in terms of how interview shows are conducted on American TV. And I haven’t joined CNN to come 2nd, 3rd, or 4th.”… Because I know that to get CNN back to the top in prime time is going to take a lot of hard work, determination, tenacity, mischief, revelation, aggression, fun, and brilliant interviews. As you guys might put it… It’s time to kick some ratings butt.”