A replacement is unlikely to come from inside Time-Warner
The removal of Jim Walton as president of CNN Worldwide on Friday means that Time-Warner Chairman Jeff Bewkes realizes that his news network is in trouble and in need of a major overhaul.
The move has been in the works for a couple of months, insiders tell me.
Bewkes (left) and Turner CEO Phil Kent had been speaking to Walton in recent weeks about the need for change, with a plan emerging for him to be replaced after the November election.
It seems that Walton took their signals and leaped.
Also read: Ratings: CNN Posts Worst Quarter in 21 Years
Walton’s own memo to CNN staff on Friday acknowledged that he didn't have the stuff to turn things around.
"CNN needs new thinking,” he wrote to the staff, echoing what the outside world has found crushingly obvious for some time.
And he admitted that he wasn't the guy for the job: “That starts with a new leader who brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan, one who will build on our great foundation and will commit to seeing it through."
Bewkes recognizes that CNN is going rapidly in the wrong direction and that the network — as one executive told me — is “stuck in the mud” and needs an “overhaul.”
Already speculation is running rampant through CNN that a replacement for Walton (right) will come from another Time-Warner division, like HBO or New Line.
A knowledgeable executive told TheWrap that this is categorically false. An open search is already underway, and I’m told that it’s “unlikely” the replacement will come from Time-Warner.
It’s not an easy job for any executive, no matter how seasoned. How to turn around CNN, which has plunged from a once-unassailable first place to a long-lagging third?
Fixing CNN “is not that complicated,” a journalist at the network tells me. “They need to invest in the news.”
The staff, by most accounts, is frustrated by years of Walton’s cost-cutting and a lack of innovation.
The network has a star in Anderson Cooper, but Soledad O’Brian's lively morning show cannot catch up with MSNBC competitor Joe Scarborough’s “Morning Joe” lineup or Fox's "Fox and Friends." Erin Burnett's OutFront is also struggling.
And Piers Morgan, who replaced Larry King, continues to underwhelm.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there is another casualty from the “lack of new thinking” department. EVP Mark Whitaker ought to watch his back.