Chris Licht’s CNN Exit Puts New Spotlight on Amy Entelis

Some people only get one chance to run CNN. Amy Entelis is about to embark on her second.

The veteran news executive was one of three who took the reins at the Warner Bros. Discovery news outlet when Jeff Zucker, the previous chief, was forced out in February of last year after acknowledging a romantic relationship with Allison Gollust, once CNN’s chief marketing officer. Now Entelis will be part of a new trio leading the news giant after the Wednesday departure of former CEO Chris Licht.

The challenges facing CNN have not diminished. Entelis will guide CNN’s news operations along with Virginia Moseley, recently named to oversee editorial operations, and Eric Sherling, recently appointed head of U.S. programming. David Leavy, a longtime Zaslav lieutenant who was named chief operating officer at CNN last week, will oversee business activities. The entire group must keep CNN moving forward as the 2024 presidential election cycle draws near, even as the outlet’s ratings have fallen and its staff has been buffeted by job cuts, programming changes and a seemingly endless cycle of senior executives coming and going.

And while Warner Bros. Discovery is expected to search for a new CEO to replace Licht, whose tenure was cut abruptly Wednesday, Entelis is arguably the most experienced with CNN’s unique demands and much of the personnel who make it run. She has been involved in many of CNN’s most critical hires in recent years and also built a new business for the outlet by broadening its outreach into documentary films and series. One films, “Navalny,” centered on Russian activist Alexey Navalny, won an Oscar in the most recent Academy Awards.

It is unclear if Entelis would want to lead CNN on her own. She would face not only secular declines in the cable business — more subscribers are cutting out subscriptions in favor of streaming video — but a difficult boss. David Zaslav, CEO of parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, has a penchant for meddling relentlessly in the company’s vast operations, and has yet to demonstrate a mastery of news or scripted entertainment content. The executive has found success in running a portfolio of lower-margin networks that feature unscripted and documentary programming. Even so, say people familiar with the network, Entelis is viewed as the leading internal candidate for overall leadership of the operation.

Entelis has stayed at CNN despite a recent move that undermined her work. In October, Licht ordered a pullback from original series and films produced with outside partners. That spelled an end to series like “This Is Life With Lisa Ling” and “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” that have become part of the fabric at CNN. “Parts Unknown,” a travel and cuisine series led by Anthony Bourdain, has become as recognizable for CNN as Larry King’s long-running primetime celebrity-interview series. Entelis had spent a decade developing CNN Films, which acquired, commissioned, or executive produced more than 60 feature and short films, and her moves have been emulated by NBCUniversal and MSNBC. She has recently helped supervise a new hour-long documentary series, “The Whole Story,” that gives CNN correspondents a chance to follow a subject in depth.

A spokesman for Warner Bros. Discovery did not respond immediately to a query seeking comment on whether Entelis might be considered in the search for a new executive. It seems clear, however, that the next leader of CNN will focus mostly on news production and content, not the overall business. Leavy is taking oversight of marketing, promotion, advertising and distribution. He has worked for Zaslav as a key lieutenant for years.

Anyone who seeks to run CNN will have to grapple with the formulation of a new digital strategy. More people are flocking to broadband and social media to get their news, but outlets like CNN are beholden to cable and satellite distributors to put their content up first on linear channels. CNN had launched the steraming video hub CNN+ last year, but Warner Bros. Discovery scuttled in within days of taking control of CNN from AT&T, citing concerns about costs. Some CNN films and programs have surfaced on the company’s Max and Discovery+ streaming outlets, but placing live content there would prove complex.

Entelis has a long TV-news pedigree. She worked at Disney’s ABC News for three decades, starting as a producer on programs like “20/20” and “World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.” She eventually became senior vice president for talent strategy, development, and research. She joined CNN in 2012, just before Zucker took the reins.

Her two colleagues also have significant experience. Moseley spent 18 years at ABC News, where she served as a senior political editor and, in her last role, as senior Washington editor for “Good Morning America.” She has a reputation as a tough manager, but one who delivers results. Her husband, Thomas Nides, is the U.S. ambassador to Israel, a dynamic that is sometimes used by conservatives to criticize CNN’s coverage.

Sherling has been instrumental in the development of CNN’s “News Central,” two new daytime programming blocks that seek to treat breaking news coverage in similar fashion to Election Night, lending a kinetic feel to the proceedings. He has overseen production of special events like coverage of the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, as well as CNN’s recent broadcast of the awarding of the Mark Twain Prize.

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