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CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein out, HLN topper Ken Jautz in

[This blog post has been updated]

CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein got his walking papers this week, replaced by longtime CNN-er Ken Jautz, who most recently transformed Headline News channel from a news recap channel to the more tabloidy/talk-showy HLN. Both networks are owned by Time Warner.

CNN's Jon Klein (CNN)

The announcement was made Friday in an email to staffers by CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton, after which he called a news conference call with reporters to explain the stunning timing of his deck-chair shuffling, right after Klein put the finishing touches on his overhaul of CNN's prime-time lineup, but before that new lineup actually debuted.

In an effort to goose the numbers on the ratings-hungry cable news network, Klein was set to debut a new 8 o'clock show starring commentators Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker next month and, three months later, a new interview show hosted by Brit journalist/competition-show host Piers Morgan who has been crowned Larry King's replacement.

While it might seem odd to you or me that Walton would show Klein the door before that new lineup debuted which, last we checked, was the best way to know if Klein had done a good job, Walton explained to reporters on the phone call Friday that he gave Klein the old heave ho now because "we didn't want to have any disruption once the programs were on the air."

But, if Walton thought the new shows were going to succeed, why would "disruptions" be necessary? It was confusing but, somewhere in there, seemed to be a ringing non-endorsement of the new programs.

In his email to staffers Walton made only one short reference to the programs -- in paragraph six of a six-paragraph email -- as "two new prime time shows on CNN" which he did not name but said that Jautz, Scott Safron -- CNN Worldwide's chief marketing officer who is now going to lead HLN, and a new, as yet unnamed, managing editor would "impact these and all of the other events ahead."

On the phone call Walton went to far as to commit that Jautz "is bullish on Kathleen and Eliot as well as Piers" and left it at that.

At around 4 p.m. ET Friday, the brain trust at Time Warner division Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. -- which includes CNN, HLN et al -- apparently had had time to read the early reviews on the day's developments and decided that what it needed was a shot in the arm.

"Jim Walton is a world-class leader, and I'm in full support of his newly announced organizational structure and leadership team," Phil Kent, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., said in a statement emailed to the press around that time.

"The new managing editor role will build on the network's unique strengths in journalism and on CNN's quality editorial voice across all platforms. I'm also very confident in CNN's programming strategy, including the network's upcoming fall shows. I believe these changes will position CNN/U.S. and HLN for future growth and success."

CNN's Ken Jautz. (CNN)

In a Friday afternoon phone call with The TV Column, Klein -- who'd gotten word of his departure two days earlier -- said philosophically "You never know what goes into the timing, but they may have wanted to get any big announcements out of the way before the shows launched, so as not to be seen as verdicts of those shows."

He described his newly available status as "very sudden."

"I'm disappointed not to be able to see these shows to The Promised Land," Klein continued, adding, "I do think Eliot Eliot and Kathleen and Piers are three of the most dynamic personalities to come up in a long time and will have a major positive impact for CNN.

"I would have looked forward to running those shows but I look forward to watching them."

"His reinvention of HLN is the latest in a string of successes," Walton told staffers in re Jautz, who revamped and re-branded that network so as to give it a talk-show lineup at night which, Walton said, "more than doubled the network's prime time ratings."

Yes, Kautz is the guy to thank/blame for "Nancy Grace," "Joy Behar," and SHowBiz Tonight," among other programs. He's also the guy who brought you Glenn Beck, who has since migrated to Fox News Channel. Under Jautz's watch, prime time ratings for the channel have soared.

Meanwhile, CNN's ratings have nosedived. Klein has been prez of CNN/U.S. for about six years. About five years after Klein swore off opinion-based prime-time programming for the network and embarked on a crusade to find an audience more interested in straight news reporting, ratings-parched CNN this past summer started crawling back to dip its dehydrated tongue into the restorative waters of debate TV.

In June, Klein announced a new show starring the disgraced/rehabbed former governor Eliot Spitzer, the New York Democrat, and syndicated columnist Parker. At that time, Klein acknowledged he's hoping the new show helps shore up ratings for the network's flagship "Larry King Live" -- its ratings had plunged by 40 percent in 2010. "Ratings are an ecosystem -- every show depends heavily on the show that proceeds it," he said at the time.

A few months later Klein announced that Morgan would assume King's time-slot a few weeks after King signs off in December. While the new show hosted by Morgan, who is best known to American viewers as one of the judges on NBC's "America's Got Talent," will air on CNN International in more than 200 countries, Klein's primary concern was that Morgan's cheeky style would goose the ratings domestically on the cable news network, which fumbled nearly 50 percent of its prime-time audience in August compared to a year ago.

"Jon's six years as head of CNN/US are reflected in the quality of our coverage of signal news events during his well as shows like 'Anderson Cooper 360,' 'The Situation Room' and 'Fareed Zakaria GPS' all of which bear his imprint. Walton said briefly in Friday's email to staff.

"Jon has made important contributions to the CNN story, and he leaves with our respect and friendship and with my sincere thanks," he added.

Watch Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker announce the name of their new show:

By Lisa de Moraes  | September 24, 2010; 4:10 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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Next: 'Dancing with Stars': quick steps, Sarah Palin -- and Great Booing Debate


I wonder if the new guy will be interested in profits. It seems the old guy wasn't with all the liberally biased programming he instituted. Larry King's show show have been euthanized a decade ago as just one example. It looks to me like these liberal run rags, newspapers and TV news organization bet everything they had (or at least whatever remaining integrity and credibility with the public) on getting Obama elected and covering for him the past two two years. Now they are at the end of their rope and they will be hanged with it. God how I love a free market and the corrective forces it exerts on liberal based broadcasts. Anyone remember Air America Radio? I didn't think so!

Posted by: MikeJ9116 | September 24, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Amuses me how the probably paid FoxNews brain-dead robots have fallen all over this story in the Washington Post comments.
To hear them, the rest of us out here don't have a right to have programming that interests us.
They talk about the "free market".
Nothing "free" about it; it's nothing more than bought corporate propaganda.
We'll be watching to see what impact this change has on MSNBC.
That's our cable news channel of choice all day and all evening.
Sorry CNN, you lost us in 2007.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | September 26, 2010 1:19 AM | Report abuse

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