NBC Universal Chief Jeff Zucker resigns
NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker said Friday that he would be stepping down as soon as the merger between Comcast and NBC Universal was completed, which is expected later this year.
Zucker made the announcement to his staff in New York on Friday morning, and it was first reported by the New York Times. The move was not entirely unexpected because Comcast, which will own the majority stake of the combined entity, has made it clear that Comcast Chief Operating Officer Steve Burke would be in charge of NBC Universal. The timing of the announcement, however, was sooner than most people had figured.
Behind the scenes for the last few weeks, Zucker and his bosses at General Electric Co., which currently owns NBC Universal, have been tussling over when Burke would unveil his plans for a new organizational structure -- which presumably would not include Zucker.
Zucker, who rose to prominence as the youngest-ever executive producer of the "Today" show and spent four years running the company's entertainment operation in Burbank, took over the entire company in 2007.
It was a tumultuous reign. Although Zucker energized the company, moved NBC Universal into the digital age and was a key architect of the online video website Hulu, he badly misfired by hiring an inexperienced independent TV producer, Ben Silverman, to be in charge of programming for the NBC network.
His risky and well-publicized move to shift "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno to a 10 p.m. program severely damaged NBC's prime-time schedule and seriously affected the finances of NBC affiliate TV stations, which rely on the late local news for much of their revenue.
Earlier this year, Zucker's plan to move Leno back to late night infuriated Conan O'Brien, who had been given the "Tonight Show," and led to a protracted separation that played out like a soap opera on late-night TV.
Zucker sent this e-mail to his staff:
Well, the time has come. This time, to tell you a little news about me.
When Comcast assumes control of NBC Universal, I will leave the company.
It has not been an easy or simple decision. I have spent my entire adult life here, more than 24 years. This is the only place I have ever worked. The only professional thing I have ever known. I met my wife here, enjoyed the birth of our four children in that time, worked in almost every division of the company. And forged relationships, both professional and personal, that will last a lifetime.
I remember, vividly, the first day I came to work here in August, 1986. I walked to work at 30 Rockefeller Plaza that day; it was humid and my shirt was soaking by the time I got there. In the years since, I have enjoyed nothing but sheer pleasure in having the names NBC and Universal on my business cards. Sure, there have been ups and downs in the last quarter century. But when I step back, and think about what we've been through, I feel nothing but pride and joy. It has been a great run and I've been incredibly fortunate.
Now, it is clear to me that this is the right decision for me and for the company. Comcast will be a great new steward, just as GE has been, and they deserve the chance to implement their own vision.
I am proud that they will inherit a company in very good shape, with almost every one of our divisions enjoying their best year ever. The current strength of the company is a tribute to every one of you and the terrific leadership team that is in place.
We'll talk more about the shape of the company in the months ahead. For now, I just wanted you to know my plans. I won't be going anywhere until the day the deal closes, and that day is still months away. There is plenty left to do, and we have an obligation to each other to maintain what we have already built. I will continue to approach everything we do with the long-term interest of the company in mind, just as I always have; I know no other way.
I don't yet know what my future will bring. I've spent the last 24 years thinking only about NBC Universal, and never contemplated anything else. I haven't even begun to think about the next chapter. But I wanted to be honest with you about this news as soon as I could.
I love NBC Universal. And always will. And I am grateful to each of you.
My most heartfelt thanks.
-- Meg James
Photo: Jeff Zucker. Credit: Justin Lane/EPA.