2014 TCA - Winter Tour - Turner Broadcasting PresentationCNN Worldwide chief Jeff Zucker says Fox News chief Roger Ailes dismissal of CNN in a recent interview ” is meant to deflect your attention from the book this week and is silly.”

TCADeadline__140109155905Zucker was referring to Gabriel Sherman’s new unauthorized bio of Ailes, The Loudest Voice In The Room: How The Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News And Divided a Country.

“We happen to be in the news business, as opposed to some other ‘fair and balanced’ networks,” Zucker told TV critics attending Winter TV Press Tour 2014. “I think really you know what’s going on there. He hasn’t done an interview in a long time and does one the week the book comes out; he’s trying to deflect attention,” Zucker said, noting there is no other network “covering news in such a substantial and serious way as CNN.”
Zucker said he had not read “Loudest Voice,”  “but I’ve read about the book and from what I understand it confirms what we’ve known all along, which is that the Republican party is being run out of NewsCorp headquarters, masquerading as a news channel.”

Contacted for comment, a Fox News rep countered that  CNN might have been trying to deflect from its own ratings woes.

Zucker also dismissed rumors about CNN and late night. CNN is not looking to get into business with Jay Leno with a late night talk show when Leno leaves NBC’s Tonight Show, Zucker said, press reports notwithstanding.

“There’s been a lot of talk about CNN looking for a late night comedy show. That’s really not a priority for us at this time. We have other things we’d like to concentrate on first. So that’s not really in the cards any time soon. I think Jay – obviously I have a long relationship with Jay and he’s a terrific talent, but that’s not where our priorities are, not where we’re going — certainly not any time soon.”

NBC News’ Ann Curry also has been the subject of speculation about maybe migrating to CNN to work for Zucker, a longtime NBC News, NBS Entertainment, and NBC corporate exec. NBC News recently denied a report it would not renew the reported $12 million contract it gave Curry when it clumsily took her off Today.

Zucker danced around that question.

“Ann is a terrific talent and I do have a long relation with her. She’s under contract; she’s not available at this time,” Zucker bobbed and wove. “If she were ever available, that’s somebody I would certainly look at — but she’s not available at this time.”

Kathy Griffin, on the other hand, is someone Zucker can just say flat out he wants back, to co-anchor the network’s New Year’s Eve broadcast. “I’ve known Kathy a long time – I think she’s a great fit for us on New Year’s Eve and I’d like to see that continue. That’s a year-to-year deal. But I’d certainly like to see that continue,” he said.

Zucker recently gave his first one-on-one interview since taking the CNN gig last January, to Capital New York, which reported he “plans massive change at CNN” and that “the goal for the next six months is that we need more shows and less newscasts.”

He’s been explaining/clarifying ever since — today being no exception.

“Here’s the thing: CNN is not, and never, will abandon our first and fundamental brand equity which is news, and breaking news, and covering today’s new and putting today’s news in context. That will continue,” Zucker said. “It’s the most important thing we do.. We want to remain essential in news. At the same time, when you look at the cable news landscape, you also recognize that’s not a growing niche, and there are many places to get that kind of news and information.” HLN, he noted, was the only cable news network to enjoy ratings growth last year, owing to two high profile trials. The other networks were flat at best, to down.

That’s not a great story for cable news,” Zucker said. “ So we’re conscious of that.”

“One of the things I’d like to see is a little bit more passion,” Zucker said of his on-air talent.
“In the cable news arena you have two partisan networks that are looking out for their viewers, right? I think CNN needs to be looking out for the rest of us. I’d like to bring as much of that passion as possible. That doesn’t mean you have to be politically partisan” he said, rather “standing up for everybody here. When Dana Bash confronts the leader of the Senate during the government shutdown, she’s not doing a partisan point of view, shedding it on the part of everybody else…That’s where we need to go with CNN — more passion and more advocacy for everybody else.”

To that end, CNN announced today at the press tour that it had ordered an eight-part docu about the death penalty, Death Row Stories, from Alex Gibney and Robert Redford, narrated by Susan Sarandon.

CNN already has bought Sundance Productions eight-part docu about the Windy City, Chicagoland which it has said it will debut this year.