CNN and MSNBC thrived during the Trump years, reaching new heights in ratings and revenue while devoting countless prime-time hours to criticizing a White House antagonist their viewers just could not quit.
Now faced with a Trump-less future, top executives at the rival cable news networks have summoned star anchors and producers to private meetings in recent weeks, seeking answers to a pressing question: What’s next?
People at both networks know that viewers who abhorred President Trump may no longer need their nightly therapy sessions with Rachel Maddow or Don Lemon. And President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. seems unlikely to generate the 24/7 grist of drama and scandal that resurrected cable news, taking it from a dying medium to a focal point of modern politics.
So even as CNN smashed a 40-year viewership record last month and MSNBC notched its highest ratings since its founding in 1996, journalists and executives at the networks say they are uneasy about the year ahead.
“What happens,” asked one MSNBC on-air personality, “when you don’t need us?”
The disquiet extends to the highest echelons.
CNN’s president, Jeffrey A. Zucker, is weighing whether to exit the network amid some tension with his new boss, Jason Kilar, the WarnerMedia chief executive whose background is in tech, not journalism. Mr. Zucker is mulling his options over the holidays and is likely to make a final decision early in the new year, according to several people briefed on his thinking. Last week, MSNBC announced a replacement for its leader of more than a decade, Phil Griffin, the architect of its popular liberal lineup. [Continue reading…]