Inside Jeff Zucker…

In a must read, New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman turns his keyboard to CNN in general and Jeff Zucker in particular. Typical of Sherman articles of this nature, it’s chock full of kibitz worthy nuggets like this…

The strategy was most vividly on display during CNN’s breathless—and seemingly endless—coverage of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, lowlighted by anchor Don Lemon speculating on camera that the missing plane might have flown into a black hole. (Zucker was frustrated by the gaffe: “Don, don’t be an idiot.”)

And this…

According to CNN sources, Tapper vented to colleagues about having to cover the George Zimmerman trial so extensively, and Cooper protested the MH370 marathon. As for the entertainment programming, a veteran producer told me that it was “akin to McDonald’s taking reservations for dinner.”

And this…

Maybe Jeff Zucker’s career is an object lesson in the dangers of peaking too early. Or the hubris of leaving a winning team. Or maybe it just goes to show that it’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle once—let alone twice—in television. Nevertheless, he is dogged by the question of whether he can achieve something like his early success again. “Is Jeff a one-hit wonder?” a former NBC executive asked. “It’s the ­sophomore-album problem.”

And this…

One evening in August, I meet Zucker downtown at Babbo. “I don’t really go south of 42nd Street without a visa,” he tells me. Over dinner, I ask him about the narrative that persists in some corners of the industry that he’s failed upward. “The one thing we could not get fixed was NBC prime time. Fact. You want me to go scream it on the street?” he says with a flash of exasperation. “We had six consecutive years of best-ever performance in the cable division. NBC Sports? We’re the ones who went and bought Sunday Night Football. Universal Pictures? We’re the ones who bought Illumination Studios”—creator of the Despicable Me franchise—“and Harry Potter. I’m not trying to take credit for these things. But if things happen on your watch, both bad and good, you have to judge it collectively.”

And this…

But over the next few months, Zucker’s enemies in Hollywood mobilized. Kent and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes received calls from power brokers like Ari Emanuel and Rick Rosen, Conan O’Brien’s agent at William Morris Endeavor, imploring them not to hire Zucker. “He’s a political animal. You’re going to destroy the organization,” Kent was told. Bewkes heard talk that the ambitious Zucker would go after Kent’s job.

The anti-Zucker campaign spooked Kent. “I was concerned at the volume of calls I was getting lobbying against Jeff,” he told me. “I was also well aware of everyone’s agenda.” According to sources familiar with the search, Kent began considering other candidates, including former ESPN executive Mark Shapiro and then–NBC News president Steve Capus. Zucker’s allies fought back. Ron Meyer, Universal Studios’ then-president, and Steve Lafferty, head of CAA’s TV department, called Kent and made Zucker’s case. In November, Kent finally offered Zucker the job. “I’m sorry it took so long,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: