What Will CNN Do With Chris Wallace?

How do you solve a problem like Chris Wallace? With CNN+ already about dead, the people at CNN better figure the answer out soon.

The idea of CNN+ never made any sense.

Hardly anyone watches CNN, which comes with their cable packages. So why would they pay for more CNN?

It turns out, they don’t. CNN+ is already in jeopardy just two weeks after it launched. With fewer than 10,000 people using the service, CNN staffers are bracing for layoffs and massive budget cuts.

Discovery, which will control CNN after it merges with WarnerMedia, may fold CNN+ into HBO Max and Discovery+ to avoid supporting it as a standalone service. Ultimately, new management will scale back the focus on CNN+ and cut several of its expensive programming.

CNN probably won’t have to find landing spots for most CNN+ talents though. Jake Tapper, Don Lemon, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper still have daily television shows. Others, like Jemele Hill and Rex Chapman, signed short-term contracts, which can easily be renegotiated or bought out. Hill can then return to extorting money from Spotify, and Chapman can keep stealing videos on Twitter.

But then there’s Chris Wallace, and CNN will have to answer for him since Jeff Zucker hired Wallace to be the face of CNN+. Wallace signed a multi-year deal with CNN in 2021, and based on his previous contract with Fox News, he likely earns around $10 million a year. At that investment, neither CNN nor Wallace will settle for some lame-duck service without any future.

Former Mediaite editor Jon Nicosia, who seems to have a strong source inside CNN, reports that tensions between Wallace and management are already high.

This is a leverage play for Wallace, who ultimately wants to weasel his way into the television lineup. He certainly isn’t going to walk because NBC, ABC, and CBS don’t have the real estate to elevate or pay him better than CNN can. The two are stuck with one another, so they might as well make it work.

What’s unclear, however, is how incoming president Chris Licht views Wallace. He was not the one who hired Wallace at CNN. Zucker was. But now Zucker is gone, and Licht is in charge.

Licht has vowed to restore CNN’s honor and credibility in the world of journalism. While select lawmakers and viewers still respect Wallace, others see him as a partisan hack who protected Joe Biden during a 2020 presidential debate.

So where Licht falls on this spectrum will determine to what degree Wallace ends up on television — if at all.

If Licht likes Wallace, he may consider him for the vacant 9 pm primetime hour, which Chris Cuomo hosted until recently. According to Nicosia, Wallace is “telling anyone that will listen he wants Cuomo’s old time slot.” 

Of course he does. 9 pm is the top hour on CNN.

Though Wallace doesn’t strike anyone as a primetime personality, who at CNN does?

Jake Tapper is the best host at the network. CNN should offer him the job first. However, he may not take it since he already has several prominent roles at the network and therefore doesn’t need to risk a move to primetime.

After Tapper, the options are bleak. Brianna Keilar, Van Jones and Laura Coates are the very “talents” who would undermine any attempt at restoring credibility at CNN. Not to mention, they aren’t any good on TV, and no one watches them. So, they’re not really in consideration.

John Berman, the relief presenter for Anderson Cooper, doesn’t have the star power to helm a primetime show, and Michael Smerconish, Cuomo’s old fill-in, recently said on SiriusXM that the lifestyle for a primetime host wouldn’t fit him. Among other drawbacks, primetime hosts have to wait all day to go on air, so it’s not for everybody.

So, by default, Wallace could be the best option.

Still, Licht may choose not to put him in that role, either for personal or professional reasons. In that case, Wallace will either have to stay on a streaming show with only the walls as viewers or shimmy his way into segments on New Day, the failing CNN morning show.

For now, there’s no reason to expect CNN+ to build off of those 10,000 daily viewers. Some of those users subscribed only to check the product out with the launch-day discount and subsequently found the product underwhelming. Many are likely to cancel their subscription and delete the app from their smart TV by May 1.

Chris Licht has inherited a mess: the linear network is in decline, the overall brand has soured in the minds of most Americans, and the streaming service is a disaster. And there’s little room for the highly-paid, very agitated TV host, Chris Wallace.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.

6 Comments

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  1. Ah, poor Chrissy. Yeah he will get his dough but the audience is gone for this narcissist. CNN+ makes New Coke look positively brilliant as a product concept. Anyone with half a brain knew it would be a disaster. Good riddance!

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