Pondering Jeff Zucker…
Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein pens a smart piece on Jeff Zucker. I disagree with parts of it but Wallenstein raises some interesting points nobody else has raised…
CNN needs what Zucker was able to do at NBC’s “Today” at an earlier stage in his career: to shake up established practices and find a new groove. Rare is the executive who has significant experience across both news and entertainment, along with a healthy respect for how digital is transforming both. Zucker fits that profile to a T.
The radical rethink of established practices Zucker has to undertake at CNN is not unlike what Disney called on Rich Ross to attempt at Walt Disney Studios, and we all know how that turned out. But the moral of that story isn’t that you don’t attempt change because it is too tough to pull off. The lesson is that it takes someone who’s already proven he knows how to attempt a bold turnaround to succeed when there’s such a high degree of difficulty.
Imagine the hooting and hollering that would occur if CNN dared to migrate the kind of unscripted programming it will be trying on weekends with Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock to time periods more accustomed to traditional news. It’s going to take someone like Zucker to make that happen.
And therein lies an interesting wrinkle in the Zucker comeback story: He’ll be knocking on the doors of the same talent agencies he alienated in the past in search of other talent to reignite CNN. But that won’t be a problem. He may make a lot of people in this town see red, but his money is still green.
If anything, his failures at NBCU are an asset in that Zucker has something to prove. He knows there are naysayers who want him to fail. And he probably craves an opportunity for redemption, something his current lower-profile gig as exec producer of Katie Couric’s syndie talkshow wasn’t going to deliver.