In his brief tenure as CNN overlord, Jeff Zucker’s hotshot ideas have boosted ratings in the short term. But his puzzling personnel moves may plunge the network into even deeper mediocrity.
Zucker’s first major rebranding decision came in the form of hiring ABC’s White House Correspondent Jake Tapper to become its network’s Chuck Todd (so much that they hired away Todd’s producer to helm Tapper’s new show)—a serviceable reporter with a likable enough personality that you can build a show around.
Todd's wonkish bonafides include breaking down demographics and taking "deep dives" congressional district by congressional district. He also has the support of a network devoted to politics in MSNBC. What makes the Tapper move interesting, though, is that CNN already has that kind of talent in John King, who has been scarce since Election Day but has since had his contract renewed.
It’s been speculated that Tapper bounced from ABC to CNN to build his brand because he got his feelings hurt after being passed over twice to anchor This Week. But in the unforgiving frontier that is the 24-hour news network, what, exactly is Tapper’s brand?
Maybe it's a better brand of bland. Look at the latest ad for his new show, The Lead with Jake Tapper, which debuts next week. Tapper introduces himself in the ad as "more than a political reporter" and begins, Facebook-like, to list his interests. Comic books! International relations! The ’82 Sixers!
Tapper promises The Lead will help him learn more about those subjects. But who in their right mind cares? Tapper’s credibility, such as it is, is in his political reporting. Why do viewers care what he says about business? Though on the other hand Tapper does seem to know about high-end fashion, sporting $200 ties in his promos.
Zucker’s first statements as head of CNN promised the public a network that goes beyond 'politics' and war'. Hiring away one network’s lead White House reporter and giving him his own daily show is pretty much promising viewers, well, politics and war.
CNN already tried showcasing a suit with a penchant for politics. It was called John King U.S.A.