First Ivan Fecan, now Jeff Zucker. Bill Carter at the New York Times has the scoop on the departure of Zucker, the former Today Show producer wunderkind who went on to become the top NBC Universal executive. While not a complete surprise–Comcast is in the process of acquiring the broadcast and cable giant and that usually means a change in command–it’s still a shock, especially, apparently, to Zucker:
“I’ve spent over half my life at NBC. This is the only place I have ever worked. I’ve been here 24 and a half years. I met my wife here. My four kids were born while I was here. I’ve endured colon cancer twice. It’s going to be incredibly strange for me personally” to leave.
Zucker, 45, gets plenty of blame for what may go down as the biggest programming fiasco ever–slotting late night talk show host Jay Leno in nightly at 10 p.m. The move undermined NBC’s already withering schedule and seems to have left a lagging dent in Leno’s current Tonight Show ratings. Tonight just came off its worst summer ever.
Zucker was also ultimately responsible for some of the worst development in the history of the Peacock network. Check out these show titles: Emeril, Father of the Pride, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Joey, Coupling, Kings, the revised Knight Rider, LAX, Crusoe… From “Must See” to “Must we?” When it came to programming, the man had the Midas touch. Everything he touched turned into a muffler.
Picking Ben Silverman to briefly run NBC Entertainment did nothing to enhance Zucker’s already tarnished reputation, although he should score some of those points back for elevating impressive programming executive Jeff Gaspin.
Critics suspected something was up when Zucker quietly slipped into NBC’s press tour party last August on the roof of the Beverly Hilton parking lot. Zucker sightings had become scarce at recent press tours. He seemed to be back for one last mingle with the scribes.
I always found him accessible and professional at these events. He once gave me the best explanation of why 18-to-49 still mattered I ever heard. But he got little love overall from our group. Zucker’s highly competitive approach–supersizing hits like Friends to sabotage opposing shows being just one example–seemed to take network nastiness to a new level. He came off arrogant when NBC was on top and, as a result, many critics never tired of seeing him humbled.
On the plus side, Zucker grew NBC Universal’s cable division into a dominant money machine. The network also scored big ratings as well as accolades for their coverage of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
A change of scenery might do him good. Hey, I hear there will soon be an opening at CTV.