His departure was revealed to staffers at the Warner Bros. Discovery-backed outlet’s daily news meeting Monday, according to people familiar with the discussions. Bass, an executive vice president , was a key lieutenant and longtime colleague of Jeff Zucker, CNN’s former leader, and one of a troika of senior executives who led CNN for an interim period after Zucker’s abrupt ouster earlier this year. Bass will leave the company at the end of 2022.
In a note to employees, CNN CEO Chris Licht said the decision to leave was Bass’. Internally, however, there is widespread acknowledgment that the network, which has been suffering in the ratings since the 2021 inauguration of President Biden, has grappled with finding content that is more competitive with that of its peers.
“We are launching a search for Michael’s replacement, and we will communicate an interim plan in the coming days,” Licht said. One potential successor may already be on board: Ryan Kadro, a veteran producer who led efforts at “CBS This Morning” and news programming at the short-lived Quibi, has already taken a development role at CNN, and had a role in the launch of its new morning program. Licht has expressed confidence in the new show, led by Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins, though it has struggled in the ratings. It has won more viewers in the demographic most coveted by news advertisers — people between 25 and 54 — than MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” three times since its launch earlier this month.
CNN is in the midst of an era of cost-cutting, brought on by its parent company’s financial woes. Warner Bros. Discovery is navigating a punishing debt load, and CEO David Zaslav has vowed to demonstrate to Wall Street that the company is taking it seriously. At CNN, Licht has cautioned staffers about potential job cuts and has already presided over a diminishing of the company’s original-series production unit. That group is led by Amy Entelis, another of the three senior executives who helped run CNN after Zucker’s exit.
Bass has contributed much to CNN in recent years. He devised the “key race alerts” the network uses in its election coverage and has had a hand behind the scenes in many of CNN’s ongoing shows. He has played a significant role in maintaining CNN’s news presence during times of momentous stress. “Michael kept CNN live and on air as COVID-19 shut the world down. Never has CNN been more essential than those bleak days when people were struggling to understand the pandemic,” Licht said in his memo.
Before joining CNN, Bass was co-executive producer of Katie Couric’s daytime talk show, a program in which Zucker was also involved. He has also logged stints as a senior executive at NBCUniversal where he was senior vice president of strategic initiatives from 2008 to 2012. and CBS News, where he was a senior executive producer of “The Early Show,” “The Saturday Early Show,” and “The CBS Morning News.” He also worked as a top producer at NBC News’ “Today.”