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CNN’s New Chief Ken Jautz: ‘Viewers Want Context and Opinion’

The ex-HLN executive on Piers Morgan, partisan programming and succeeding president Jon Klein, whose departure was announced Friday morning

CNN president Jon Klein was ousted from his post on Friday after six sometimes tumultous years, the last of which were marred by slumping ratings in primetime.

Taking his place: Ken Jautz, an executive credited with engineering a “reinvention” of sister cabler HLN.

TheWrap spoke to Jautz on Friday about his vision for CNN, his expectations and what changes might be in store.

Can we expect a tone change, or any sort of ideological shift?
I think that CNN needs to be as lively and engaging and as informative as it is known for its reporting.

When breaking news happens, no one is able to cover an event like we do. But overall, our programming, particularly in primetime, is not as lively or engaging as it should be. I'm excited about our new shows. We think that the hosts will help achieve the engagement we want.

Were you involved in courting the new hosts at all?
Well, Jon Klein and I, our offices are next to each other. And Jon would bring them around. I was in Jon’s office for the initial meeting with Piers Morgan — Piers, CNN and myself – and I used to live in the U.K. when he was a big editor over there. I was an advocate for that show since the beginning. And Jon kept us all informed with how Parker-Spitzer was progressing.

Secondly, at HLN, I revamped six major shows, and launched them. I have a bunch of experience launching shows to bring to the table.

For a long time, Jon Klein resisted any sort of partisan programming — especially as expressed by the hosts. Can we expect to see more opinions — or at least opinionated hosts — under your watch?
CNN has always been about adhering to non-partisan programming in general. And it will continue to be.

However, I do not believe that “facts-only” programming … it will not work. Viewers, if they’re looking for just the news, they can get that anywhere now. The news that happened that day, they probably know already. They want context, perspective and opinion. And we’re going to give that to them. As long as it's non-partisan, in the aggregate, from all ends of the spectrum.

What about CNN's relationship with HLN? Will that change?
Our goal at HLN was to create a network that was different, differentiated from CNN. And that includes the audience, which was largely female and more pop-culture based. And it also meant, to a large extent, a different advertising base. We spent months and months of time launching and re-launching and creating [that differentiation] and I expect we’ll maintain that.

Let's talk about your expectations. What are your thresholds for success for these new shows? Do you have targets in mind in terms of ratings, audience, etc.?
Look, it takes time to build an audience. It’s not like you’re going to launch and then the next night have an audience the same as that show. It takes time. We need to give them the time they need to succeed.

How long is that window?
We don’t have a window.

What about your overall goals for the next year? Do you want to overtake MSNBC in primetime?
I don’t want to set up any expectations like that. I just want us to be better. To be more lively and engaging. And to continue to provide the excellent journalism and news coverage we’re known for.