CNN’s new CEO Chris Licht is looking for a slam dunk — and he hopes to find it in Charles Barkley, we hear. But network insiders think it makes the new boss seem like a basket case.
Licht — who developed something of a wunderkind reputation in the industry after he helped Stephen Colbert beat late night rival Jimmy Fallon at his last gig — took over at CNN in May 2022 after former boss Jeff Zucker was sunk by a sex scandal.
But ratings at the network — which is in the midst of a another scandal after anchor Don Lemon suggested White House hopeful Nicki Haley is “past her prime” — have been in a downward spiral. And Page Six has confirmed that execs have been in talks with the NBA legend and longtime broadcaster about appearing on the 24 news channel in hope he can help the numbers to rebound.
But insiders tell us a deal with Barkley would be another way to alienate employees, who are already skeptical of Licht’s decisions.
“He’s taken so many swings and they’ve been big misses! It’s very sad how he’s taking this iconic brand and destroying it,” one source said.
Barkley has appeared on popular “Insider the NBA” post-game show (which is part of the same corporate family as CNN) since 2000.
Another source described the potential new hire as “another disaster waiting to happen” and likened it to MSNBC’s failed primetime show “Up Late with Alec Baldwin,” which lasted only five episodes in 2013.
“People watch him to talk about sports, not politics and social justice issues and he’s expensive!,” they pointed out.
Not to mention, they added, “They’ll be spending a lot of money on someone who’s not a real journalist. That’s not going to help morale when people have lost jobs there.”
The network also lost its popular primetime anchor Chris Cuomo in the same debacle that took down Zucker.
Licht’s flashy presence is also rubbing staffers the wrong way in the wake of Lemon’s misogyny scandal that forced the co-anchor of “CNN This Morning” to agree to “formal training” before returning to the air on Wednesday. We’re told his behavior has distanced him from Lemon and other key staffers.
“My advice for [Licht] is to keep his head down. Stay out of the press and off the red carpets,” the first source said.
“Don has more friends than enemies [at CNN]. Chris Licht, I can’t say the same for,” they concluded.
New of Barkley’s talks with CNN was first reported by the Puck.
A CNN rep said, “You can find people to anonymously hate on every decision at every organization in the world. CNN is in talks with some incredible talent to reimagine primetime and we won’t be distracted.”