“Veteran news producer and former NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker will become the president of CNN Worldwide in January,” CNN confirmed earlier today.
“Zucker will be based in New York and report to Phil Kent, who runs all of the Turner networks for parent company Time Warner.
” ‘I spent the most rewarding years of my career as a journalist, and it’s where I look forward to spending many more,’ said Zucker, who shot to fame as the executive producer of NBC’s Today show at the start of its morning dynasty in the 1990s.”
Zucker, now 47, was fired from his post as head of NBC Universal in 2010. Back then, NPR’s David Folkenflik said that while Zucker had done “a pretty good job building a money-making machine with The Today Show and the NBC News part of the equation.” But, David added, “entertainment — the prime time lineup — [had] been a real problem. Zucker’s big gamble, if you recall, was the Jay Leno disaster in prime time, and that’s always going to be a blot on his record.”
Indeed, as David also reported at the time:
“Zucker had promised Conan O’Brien of NBC’s Late Night in 2004 that he could take over the Tonight Show last year. But Jay Leno’s ratings on the Tonight Show were still strong. Zucker wanted both in the fold: O’Brien for the future and Leno for now.
“Thus Zucker created The Jay Leno Show, an hourlong daily variety show at 10 p.m. It would at once keep Leno from decamping and competing with O’Brien, and dispense with expensive hourlong scripted dramas that had been a hallmark of NBC’s ‘Must-See TV’ lineup. …
“The gamble failed. Both comics suffered from diminished ratings and the shows were seen in competition for much the same audience. And the ratings plunge also angered the executives at local NBC stations, which rely on the draw of the network’s 10 p.m. shows to retain viewers for their lucrative late-night newscasts.”
More recently, Zucker helped former CBS News anchor Katie Couric get her daytime talk show on the air. Now, CNN’s Kent says of Zucker that his experience “as a news executive is unmatched for its breadth and success. … He built and sustained the number-one brand in morning news, and under his watch NBC’s signature news programming set a standard for quality and professionalism.”