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NBC looks to new generation with Zucker

Jeffrey Zucker

KAI RYSSDAL: People who keep track of ad revenue at CBS Sports are probably breathing a sigh of relief today. Early numbers show the Super Bowl drew about the same size audience as it did last year: 92 million people. That'll mean ad rates can probably go up next time around.

But the big TV news today is more along personnel lines. NBC Universal's expected to announce 41-year-old Jeff Zucker's promotion to CEO tomorrow. He's been running NBC's television group for the past couple of years.

Joe Adalian covers television for Daily Variety. Joe, good to have you with us.

JOE ADALIAN: Thank you, sir.

RYSSDAL: What is it about Jeff Zucker that gets him this job at the age of 41?

ADALIAN: Jeff Zucker is sort of relentless. When he has a goal, he really won't stop until he's got it accomplished. You know, he is somebody who is very ambitious, who wants big things, who's very competitive. When he ran the Today Show, he would not stop till he was number one, until he was a dominant number one.

He's a guy who, at one point, was

exec-producing NBC Nightly News and a news magazine — which is far too much for any one human being — and of course, ultimately had to give one up. But he wanted to do both, and he went for it. He's someone who has the drive and passion to get what he wants. And I think the announcement we're probably gonna hear tomorrow from NBC is sort of the culmination of what apparently is something he's been working on for probably the better part of 10 years.

RYSSDAL: You know, don't get me wrong, I'm sure he's a talented guy. But when he took over NBC, it was must-see television. And now, you know, it's not.

ADALIAN: What Jeff Zucker wasn't good at doing was developing new, hit shows. What's key to the job of president of entertainment is to keep the pipeline fed with new, interesting hits. And while he did get NBC into the reality game, he didn't have the sort of relationships with the Hollywood community to get new and interesting hits shows on the air. He didn't really like Hollywood, Hollywood didn't like him, and I think the result is a couple years in which NBC just didn't develop many good shows. But that's not the be-all-end-all of running a television company. And besides, NBC Universal is more than a television company, it's a TV and film company. Bob Wright

ran NBC for 21 years, most of them very well, and he never developed a single hit show in his life.

RYSSDAL: Is NBC better now than it was, say, a year ago? I mean, has Zucker started to turn things around?

ADALIAN: By people he's hired, yes. He hired Kevin Riley

a few years ago to run NBC Entertainment, put Angela Bromstead

in charge of the studio. And together, the two of them have come up with a number of successful hit shows: "My Name is Earl", "Heroes", and "The Office" is a big hit too now.

So the quality is sort of coming back and Jeff Zucker can take credit for that because he hired those people. They work for him. Getting the NFL is something also that's helped NBC. It cost them a lot of money but it's worked. You know, overall, is NBC better off than it was a year ago? Absolutely. Is it all because of Jeff Zucker? Not necessarily.

RYSSDAL: A lot of press today and over the weekend that Zucker's getting this job because Jeff Immelt

, the chairman and CEO of GE, which is NBC's parent company, thinks that you need a young guy to be able to capture the new Internet age and digital medium and younger audiences. Do you think that necessarily follows?

ADALIAN: I don't know that you need a younger guy, but you need the next guy. And the fact is Bob Wright was probably going to retire in about a year anyway. He was on the way out. He was at the end of his career at NBC. So, knowing that you're going to have to replace him, if you've decided that your guy is Jeff Zucker, why wait? Things are happening so quickly now, in the past year television has changed so dramatically. So many deals with Internet companies, with YouTube, that you really can't afford to miss a year. And while Bob Wright is a very talented man, and probably deserves to stay on until he decides he wants to go, if you know your next generation is Jeff Zucker, why have him waiting around when things need to be done? And you don't want to have the last generation in power when you need to have the next generation.

RYSSDAL: How important is NBC to GE's overall financial help?

ADALIAN: It's one of the most important companies in terms of GE's public image. It's the showcase, it's the centerpiece of what NBC does. They're not exactly bragging about their turbine engines. But in terms of overall money, look, it's important. NBC Universal now is not just about a TV network. It's about many big cable networks, like USA, Sci-Fi and Bravo that make tons — millions and millions of dollars for the bottom line. It's about a movie studio that,

in success, can make hundreds of millions of dollars. So, it's an important part of NBC's bottom line, to be sure, but it's not make-or-break.

RYSSDAL: Joe Adalian's the TV editor at Daily Variety. Joe, thanks a lot.

ADALIAN: Thank you, sir.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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