Stephen Colbert’s Weekly Message to Embattled CNN Boss and Former Colbert Producer Chris Licht: ‘I Told You So’

Chris Licht’s tenure as head of CNN has been beset with plunging ratings and revenue — along with the mass layoff of thousands of employees and blowback over plans to overhaul the network and on-air content.

It’s something that the executive’s former boss, Stephen Colbert, feared would happen — and has reminded Licht on nearly weekly phone calls, according to a profile of Licht published Sunday by The New York Times

In the Times piece, the host of CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” recounted trying to dissuade Licht, then the producer of his show, from accepting an offer to become the new chairman and CEO of CNN after Jeff Zucker resigned last February.

“You said [“The Late Show”] was so much nicer — 12 weeks off, good pay, laugh for an hour every night. Everyone is really nice; you can say anything you want, and nobody leaks it. It’s great,” Colbert recalled telling Licht. “CNN would be lucky to get you; but you’re my friend, and I’m telling you not to go.”

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But Licht said that the CNN job was his “calling,” a chance to lead the cable news network into a new era after it became defined for its public battles with Donald Trump during his presidency.

Instead, Licht has witnessed CNN’s total viewership on midterm election night fall below MSNBC for the first time ever, with 2022 revenue projected to fall 40% year over year largely due to the sunk costs from starting the doomed streaming service CNN+.

Colbert says that he still talks with Licht almost every Friday since his departure from “The Late Show,” but that he opens their conversation with a simple four-word reminder: “I told you so.”

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Along with the ratings and revenue problems, Licht has come under fire from liberal critics for his changes to CNN programming, believing that the network had become too partisan during the Trump era. Among the moves was a shift for host Don Lemon, one of Trump’s biggest critics on CNN, from a primetime gig to a new morning show that is lagging behind Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in the ratings.

Licht described the shift in CNN’s programming internally as telling viewers “how to think” rather than “what to think,” the Times reported, though that hasn’t stopped critics like former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann from slamming him with labels like “TV fascist.”

“The uninformed vitriol, especially from the left, has been stunning,” Licht told The Times. “Which proves my point: so much of what passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation.”