UPDATED, with comment from Chris Wallace and Kasie Hunt: CNN+ is on its way out, but the new leadership at Warner Bros Discovery has given every indication that there could still be a future for some of its programming.
Much of the speculation has centered on the future of the highest-profile hire for the streaming service, Chris Wallace, who stunned his Fox News colleagues in December to announce that he was leaving. His CNN+ show, Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace?, has made news on a number of occasions with his probing sit-downs with the likes of Bob Iger and Jen Psaki, and it’s not too much of a leap to imagine him moving to CNN.
There has been some anticipation that Wallace, with his show’s extended and probing interviews, would be most likely to get such a berth. CNN has had a big hole to fill at 9 p.m. weeknights after Chris Cuomo’s firing, but there could also be a larger overhaul of the early-evening and primetime schedule under incoming CEO Chris Licht.
Wallace declined to comment on what happens next, but told Deadline, “My primary concern right now is taking care of my team.”
Meanwhile, Wallace’s executive producer, Javier de Diego, bristled at the sense of joy that some had over the demise of CNN+, led by former President Donald Trump, who issued a mocking statement.
“Adding to an already awful day: People on here celebrating the demise of a project hundreds worked hard to accomplish, and praising their potential unemployment,” de Diego wrote. “Seemingly for political reasons. Can people be human for once? Have some empathy.”
In fact, hundreds could lose their jobs with the axing of CNN+, particularly as Warner Bros Discovery moves to post-merger cost-cutting mode. The abrupt way that the closure was handled, with some learning via news alerts, also has left some talent demoralized.
Another high-profile hire was Kasie Hunt, who anchors an afternoon show. She did not respond to a request for comment but said on her show on Friday that she would be staying at CNN “covering our leaders, elections, the future of democracy for CNN, and I hope to see you there.” She said that the show would be her last, even though CNN+ officially shuts down on April 30. “TV really is a team sport, and the very best team made this show. The journalists, the technicians behind the cameras, they poured their hearts and souls into this,” she said.
Another hire, Audie Cornish, had yet to launch her show, but when she moved from NPR, it also was announced that she would appear on CNN covering breaking news and on a new podcast.
Other figures, like Kate Bolduan with 5 Things and Brian Stelter with Reliable Sources Daily, already have a presence on CNN. The question is whether some of the formats of the newsier shows transfer to the linear network, particularly those that got some traction even with the limited audience.
On Twitter, Scott Galloway, who hosted a weekly show focused on technology, media and society, said in a video: “Nothing is ever as good or bad as it seems. The only thing I know about this is that this has been so much fun and I feel so blessed to have been a part of something that was so much fun and work with such interesting and talented people.”
Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav has been clear about wanting to move CNN to its harder-news roots. CNN+, though, included a host of lifestyle, sports and entertainment programming among its offerings. A show hosted by Alison Roman was planned for later in the year, as was Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico.
Jemele Hill, set to co-host a show starting next month, wrote on Twitter, “Some of y’all are going to try to get jokes off at my expense but I’m going to be fine — it’s called a contract, learn about it. But there are people who are part of our show staff who do not have the same protection. Good people will be out of work. But go off tho.”
One talent rep said that it was likely that Warner Bros Discovery would be on the hook to pay out contracts, while others with figures who remain at CNN might have to be renegotiated. The terms of Wallace’s contract are unclear, but when he was hired at CNN+, the network made clear that he was to be on the streaming service exclusively.
Among CNN+ employees, there also has been a great deal of suspicion that the streaming service got engulfed in corporate politics, between the old leadership of the network and the new. One insider said that the whole thing reeked of “anger and ego.”
WarnerMedia went forward with the launch of CNN+ even though, in a matter of weeks, Discovery would be taking over the network and it would be getting a new leader, Licht.
Discovery, meanwhile, obviously was well aware of the launch but was skeptical of CNN+ as a stand-alone offering and decided to make a break from the weeks-old venture rather than overhaul the service or even make longer-term plans for a gradual shutdown. Andrew Morse, who had headed CNN+ until Thursday’s announcement, had said that there were plans to bundle it with HBO Max. Discovery executives say that CNN will play a role in its streaming future; it just won’t be CNN+.
There was some mention of CNN+’s imminent demise on Stelter’s Reliable Sources Daily, as he talked of a “clash of strategies.” His guest, Matt Belloni of Puck, told Stelter, “I have never been on a program talking about the demise of that program.”