In his first public remarks since taking the helm at CNN, Jeff Zucker told attendees at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon on Monday that the network is like “that spare tire in the trunk”—something that people forget about until they need it, rather than an essential part of their news viewing habit.
You only take it out when you really need it. It’s not one of the four tires on the car all the time. The challenge for us is how to make CNN more essential, how to make it one of the four tires on the car.
As Zucker has learned in a little over four months on the job, that’s going to be a tall order, with Fox News and MSNBC having staked out their positions on the right and left of the political spectrum, leaving CNN with a small slice of cable news viewers.
Zucker said that there was “plenty of room in the middle,” and that the network hasn’t been “vibrant enough.” Think Eliot Spitzer.
He also took issue with critics who thought the network went overboard on its coverage of the Carnival cruise ship Triumph, which was stranded in the Gulf of Mexico and had to be towed to shore in February. He attributed it to “jealous” competitors who didn’t see it as a human drama.
“Just because Jon Stewart makes fun of it doesn’t mean he’s right,” he said.
Zucker also addressed social media, calling Twitter a “frenemy.” When asked about how he should be judged in two years, he replied that it should be on the overall reach of CNN (not just TV ratings), and the ability to create compelling programming.
While it’s too early to judge Zucker, his first two major programming changes, “The Lead with Jake Tapper” and “The Point,” haven’t exactly set the world on fire with the latter being an abject failure after drawing some of the lowest ratings in the network’s history.
If this keeps up, Zucker may not even last two years.