Learning from a brush with death

June 13, 2011: 8:45 AM ET

FORTUNE -- How would going through a near-death experience change you? It's one of those questions that few of us ever ponder or could ever answer until, heaven forbid, it happens.

On April 28, 2010, Chris Licht, then the hard-charging executive producer of MSNBC's Morning Joe, suffered a brain aneurysm -- putting him closer to death's door than he ever wanted to be. Eight days in the hospital and weeks of recovery offered Chris some time to think about his non-stop Blackberrying, yelling at work, not paying enough attention to his family, and losing touch with his friends.

Chris, 39, explores all this, in a slim volume, What I learned When I Almost Died (Simon & Schuster.) I know a little bit about the story. As a regular guest on Morning Joe, I've worked with Chris and always marveled at his ability to juggle, turn on a dime and most of all thrive in the shark tank that is the big time TV news. His book is a great read that will probably make you think twice about your work/life balance, plus if you're a Morning Joe junkie, it's got some nice nuggets.

Chris took some time off last year to heal and to think, and says he came back a changed man. Less psycho about the little things. More understanding about the big things. And it seems to have served him well. He certainly hasn't slowed down much, at least as far as his career goes. Last month he left Morning Joe and on last week he started a new job at CBS news As Vice President of Programming. I emailed Chris to find out how he was faring at his new job:

So, C-Licht! You're at your new job. How do you like it?

So far, so good. People have been very welcoming here. There is a great vibe in the building. The division is returning to its roots and that is creating a lot of positive energy here. It's a great place to be.

What exactly will you be doing?

Working with the great producers here to do anything I can to help. Obviously, the mornings are a huge priority and that will be my initial focus. Additionally, I will be working on several strategic projects for David [Rhodes, president of CBS News.]

Do you think your near death experience has made coming to a new job any easier? How?

It has made me much more willing to take professional risks. The worst-case scenario just can't compare with almost dying. That said, dealing with my illness brought me so much closer to Joe and Mika -- it made the decision to leave excruciatingly difficult.

How is the Tiffany network different from a cable news upstart?

There is such a tradition at CBS. This is the House That Walter Built. There are tremendous people here who've seen it all and very impressive resources. MSNBC is a very lean, scrappy place -- and I mean that as a compliment. It's also on the air all the time. It is a nice luxury here to really focus on the two main daily broadcasts.

You said that people watch 60 Minutes like crazy...other CBS news shows, not so much. How can that be changed?

Actually, Sunday Morning, Face the Nation, and 48 Hours also all do very well. As for Monday-Friday, building an audience will take time. But [CBS News Chairman and 60 Minutes Executive Producer] Jeff Fager and David Rhodes have given all of us the marching order: smart TV done in a compelling way. That is the core of what makes 60 so successful. If people know they can get that on the other broadcasts, they will watch. To top of page

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