Zucker

Jeff Zucker doesn’t need you.

Yea, that’s right, that Zucker doesn’t need anything from us to convince himself and the corporate war lords, past and present, that he is the go to television executive.

I just finished reading this profile by Gabriel Sherman on the Zuckster, the guy with the brown fingered touch, from the 10.5 New York Magazine. It’s a pretty well balanced portrayal of the man, the myth and the reality.

It’s worth noting, as the article points out, that the man has suffered some pretty intense medical ailments like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, colon cancer…twice and most recently, Bells Pallsy. Suffice it to say, Zucker has been through some medical ringer.

The running joke has always been that only two things would survive a nuclear holocaust, roaches and Keith Richards…I think we can add Jeff Zucker to that list.

I can’t begin to fathom what all of that medical stuff must be like.  Personally, I have nothing but respect and sympathy for he and his loved ones.

Professionally, I have nothing but disdain and vitriol.

His professional career trajectory has certainly been impervious to his health concerns.  Jeff Zucker’s “success” has continued to confound not only me but a large chunk of media watchers. Primarily because he has had virtually NONE!

Yes, The Today Show. That said, history will prove, if it hasn’t already, that these things are cyclical and it just so happened he was in the right place at the right time and exploited the opportunity. No harm or shame in that.

Exploiting it to the corner office and the apogee of the media industry? Well, that is infinitely more suspect.

Let’s peek at some of his success.

When Zucker took over NBC television programing, NBC was in first place in the ratings. Four years later? Last place.

As programming head, he contributed nil, zilch, nada to our culture. While extremely challenging to do, it’s not an impossible task. Genre differences aside, The Apprentice and Fear Factor could hardly be counted on as cultural benchmarks on par with Seinfeld and Friends.

OK, yes, he was head of NBC when 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, The Office, Friday Night Lights, etc. were all critics darlings, but they were never ratings juggernauts. Friday Night Lights won a Peabody Award and Zucker still wanted to dump it (it eventually made its way to Direct TV). Besides, those shows were developed under the watchful eye of Kevin Riley.

Speaking of Riley, Zucker fired Kevin Riley to replace him with Ben Silverman. That decision was, to put it mildly, only marginally less catastrophic than the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien debacle. In the New York Magazine article, Zucker says “When I hired Ben, every CEO in Hollywood called to say what a brilliant move it was, Bob Iger, Leslie Moonves, Peter Chernin. They all thought it was brilliant. Turns out it wasn’t.”

Jesus. Is he really that thick? OF COURSE THEY THOUGHT IT WAS BRILLIANT! It all but guaranteed NBC would stay in last place! There is no part of me that believes they were being sincere. If those of us who worked at NBC (I worked there at the time) could see hiring neophyte Silverman as an epic blunder, I have to believe those higher up in the food chain, with more experience and knowledge, had to see it too.

Here is a big problem with Zucker. He’s got no vision, nil, zilch, nada. For example, Vice Media made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase HLN from CNN and Time Warner. As a result, Vice founder Shane Smith threw the first stone and slagged Zucker saying that everything CNN does “is a fucking disaster”.

Never one to roll over Zucker responded in the New York Magazine article saying “I don’t take Vice seriously. They produce 15 hours of television [a month].”

If there is ONE person who should be taking Vice seriously, it is Jeff Zucker.

Vice is doing the very thing CNN built its brand on, news. Real news. News that matters. News that is important. They are reshaping and re-framing news. For the most part, they are achieving stunning results. You may not know Vice Media now, but you will. They are the future of news and to stick your head in the sand, as Zucker is doing, is beyond stupid.

To be fair, Zucker isn’t the only one ignoring Vice. I can’t tell you the number of people who work in the industry who simply have no idea who they are or what they do. Mark my words, they’re gonna end up regretting their indifference and ignorance.

But alas, I don’t want to be too harsh on Jeff Zucker. There are some things he does really well. Like follow orders from the top to squeeze the shit out of a nickel to get a dime.

As Turner Broadcasting begins instituting its aggressive Turner 2020 plan, cutting about 1,475 jobs, about 20% of which will be at CNN, Jeff Zucker is once again proving he is the good little soldier boy. He preemptively ankled CNN radio (probably a good move) and CNN Latino (probably not a good move considering that is the fastest growing demographic in the United States), moved the talent from Atlanta to New York (probably a good move) and informed staffers “they would have to do less with less” (just kinda dickish).

Oh, it’s worth noting that CNN, a part of Time Warner, is on a mission to turn in a $1 billion dollar profit to prove to the assholes on Wall Street that Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes wasn’t an idiot for walking away from Rupert Murdoch’s offer earlier this year (he wasn’t…at least not for that reason). CNN was on target to reach a $1 billion dollar profit by 2017 before the layoffs and cost cutting measures.

Jeff Zucker is no longer the big cheese calling the shots. He’s gotta answer to Turner president David Levy and Turner Broadcasting CEO John Martin. When asked if he was gunning for the Turner CEO top spot, which would put him in direct competition with his boss Levy, he flatly denied it saying, “Everybody can’t accept that I just want to run CNN.” No Jeff, we can’t accept it.

You see, that’s never ever been his MO. He was only 26 when he took the reigns of The Today Show and 40 when he took over NBC Universal. The man so desperately wants to be a media mogul that he will stop at nothing to do it.  The problem is, he never will be.

Oh sure, Zucker has mettle, I’ll give you that. He’s good at cutting costs, no question there. He’s a blustery bully, without a doubt. Certainly, he’s a good corporate lieutenant, maybe even colonel, but he’s just not a general (Napoleonic references aside).

Media, regardless of medium, is chiefly about vision and there, Jeff Zucker has none. In fact, he has proven time and time again that he has a grave deficit in that arena.

But listen, Jeff Zucker doesn’t need you, me, his contemporaries, colleagues, subordinates, employees past or present, writers, critics, viewers or anyone to tell him he’s doing a great job. Despite all the contemporary and historical evidence to the contrary, he knows he is the best television executive around. Just ask him.