CNN Considering Hiring Comedian for Primetime Slot

L: Bill Maher (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP). A: Jon Stewart (AP Photo/Brad Barket, File).

CNN is considering turning over some key hours on their schedule to not be a veteran journalist, but a comedian.

The cable news network has been shuffling the schedule and roster over the past few months: parting ways with Brian Stelter and his Reliable Sources show; returning Jake Tapper to his afternoon gig on The Lead after a stint shepherding the CNN’s election coverage; launching a new morning show with Kaitlin Collins, Don Lemonand Poppy Harlow; expanding Jim Acosta’s weekend CNN Newsroom duties; and shaking up the daytime schedule with new anchor combinations.

But there’s still a big glaring hole in the 9 pm ET hour formerly featuring Chris Cuomowho was dared after an internal investigation revealed conflicts between his role at CNN and the advice he gave to his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), during his various scandals. The 10 pm ET hour is also yet to find a permanent host, with the previous resident of that spot, Lemon, now part of the CNN This Morning crew.

Chris Licht, who took the reigns at CNN in the aftermath of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger, has been a driving force behind many of the changes. He’s been adamant that he has no intention of bringing Cuomo back — and the former Cuomo Prime Time host has a new show on News Nation anyway — and according to a new report by Semafor’s Max Tani, Licht is considering taking an interesting risk with these primetime spots. (Note update at end of article — Mediaite has independently confirmed Tani’s reporting.)

CNN is thinking about hiring a “comedian,” or “news entertainment personality,” for the 9 to 11 pm ET hours to provide “a nontraditional version of the news,” wrote Tani, citing five sources familiar with the network’s plans.

The names floated internally by CNN executives reportedly include Bill Maher, Trevor Noahand Jon Stewart.

Noah departed The Daily Show in December, and hasn’t announced his next step. Noah’s daily show predecessor Stewart got accolades from Licht in a New York Times interview last year, but is currently under contract with a show on Apple TV+.

A “potentially more realistic prospect,” according to Tani, is Maher, since he’s “already in-house” at CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery with his HBO show.

CNN has undoubtedly seen the ratings successes of Fox News’ Gutfeld!hosted by Greg Gutfeldand the network is “looking for their version of John Oliver,” one source told Tani.

Developing a comedy program is squarely within Licht’s wheelhouse, as the CNN head honcho spent six years as the executive producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbertmeaning he’s “comfortable with producing a non-traditional late night show with some news elements.”

Hiring a “news entertainment personality” to be the face of such an important timeslot on a cable news network is not without its risks, obviously. Tani quoted a Dec. 2022 comment by Erik Wemple at the washington postwritten in response to Licht previously mentioning the idea of ​​hiring a comedian.

“Such an experiment could also deliver a programming disaster,” wrote Wemple. “Consider a scenario in which said entertainer was on air at the moment that an overseas war broke out, or an earthquake struck, or some statesperson died. Watching the network scramble to switch back into hard-news mode — well, that would surely be entertaining.”

A source at CNN told Mediaite there had been “some talk” that the network execs would like to have a “non-news person” in that 9 pm spot, but was unable to confirm any concrete decisions being made in that direction.

CNN representatives did not respond to Mediaite’s request for comment.

UPDATE 1/16/2023 10:15 am ET: Another source at CNN with knowledge of Licht’s thinking confirmed to Mediaite the network head was looking to “take a big swing” to find a notable name for the 9 pm ET slot, including considering hiring someone with an entertainment background, and provided some additional details on the internal chatter.

Arsenio Hall, who was mentioned in Tani’s article as a name that was “floated” by network executives but “not a serious prospect for a primetime slot,” had indeed been in talks with CNN regarding developing a limited project, said the source, not the primetime spot. And the discussions with Maher were about airing the bonus segments from his HBO show on CNN, not taking over 9 pm.

Licht is absolutely willing to hire a comedian for that timeslot, the source confirmed, as part of his overall efforts to reshape the network (updated graphics and promotional packages should be forthcoming soon, as one example). The source pointed to the large number of Americans who have been getting their news from late night shows like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and Colbert’s show, which Licht previously ran. Licht also launched MSNBC’s Morning Joeanother show highlighted by the source as a news program driven by the personalities of the hosts and includes entertainment elements.

Regardless, Licht is in “no rush” to just take whoever’s available for this key timeslot, the source emphasized, wanting to wait until they have a “big name” who is a great fit for the network and the show they want to develop around them.

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