What's So Terrible About Jeff Zucker?


In the orange glow of post-World War Conan fallout, no figure looms larger or more menacing than Jeff Zucker, the man whose finger initiated the launch sequence that would turn the late-night landscape into a wintry, chin-joke-strewn wasteland. The "Dick Cheney of television," as he was dubbed by Jon Stewart, can now proudly boast the title of Most Loathed Front-Office Entertainment Figure Since Michael Ovitz. Why the animosity? Why the persistent cries of upward-failing, or that he'd climbed up the NBC Universal ranks in a custom-fitted, solid-gold jetpack? It's the f*ck-ups, stupid. We examine now the highs and lows of Zucker's three-decade career at NBC, a legacy littered in dubious achievements.

The Golden Years

A failure to get into Harvard Law School in 1986 redirected Zucker to a job as an NBC Olympics researcher, leading to a field producer job at The Today Show. It's not clear what happened in those three years that led to his ascension to E.P of that show at age 27. But the golden touch was there. (Rock concerts in the plaza? His idea.) Today shot to number one, and the '90s belonged to Jeff. Even the early part of the 2000s looked swell, as he succeeded in luring Friends back for a tenth season (at astronomical -- but profitable -- costs). He also bet on the appeal of a combforwarded real estate magnate, and turned goat-testicle-eating into fun and prizes on Fear Factor. That last show offered the first indications that Zucker didn't care what he put on NBC, so long as it got ratings.

In 2003, Zucker was named president of NBC's Entertainment, News & Cable Group. The merger with Vivendi Universal the following year upped his title and responsibilities more. He was now in charge of NBC, its cable properties, and Universal's cable networks as well -- USA Network, Sci-Fi, and Trio. The Friends finale aired in May of that year, and that's when things started to go south.

The Terrible Sitcoms and Upwards Failing


The fruitless search for a Friends replacement produced some classic TV flops -- from the all-CGI Siegfried & Roy sitcom Father of the Pride to Joey, aka Friends: Just the Retarded Characters, to Good Morning, Miami, a biographical sitcom about a young wunderkind brought in to save an ailing morning show. No one cared. Longtime first-place NBC fell to last, where it's stayed since.

NBC Universal's board responded by doing the only logical thing: promoting him again, in 2005, to Chief Executive Officer of NBC Universal Television Group. He was now responsible for all programming across all of the company's TV properties -- network, news, cable, and Sports and Olympics. Meanwhile, over at Fox, a show known as American Idol was drastically changing the primetime landscape. ABC had successfully introduced a series of blockbuster scripted hits, like Lost, Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, while CBS and its procedural franchises were performing as strong as ever. NBC, thought, was still dead last, despite finding some success in a new Thursday night comedy lineup, and with Deal or No Deal, a game show in which contestants required no skills or knowledge other than the ability to yell at briefcases. The show began appearing several times a week. It was awful.

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  • Desk_hack says:

    Since you brought up the strike: how was Leno able to stay in the Guild if he wrote his own monologues? I thought anyone who wrote a word that was broadcast was immediately expelled.

  • I think they actually listened to Jay's monologues and figured that was punishment enough.

  • TAM says:

    Actually the Guild officially determined that Leno didn't violate union rules during the strike.
    Source: http://www.laweekly.com/2009-09-10/news/the-writers-guild-cleared-jay-leno-but-now-must-indict-itself/
    There are a lot of reasons to hate Leno, but scabbing isn't one of them.

  • Metropo says:

    Personally, with fresh eyes I'm looking at NBC and my respect is diminished. With the exception of Dateline NBC with Chris Hanson and The Today Show (miss Katy), I won't be watching.
    People who have worked hard deserve to be treated with respect by corporate suits.
    I think Craig Ferguson would be the perfect king of "The Tonight Show." He has the maturity, class, humbleness and comedic talent to make the show live up to it's legacy. Craig deserves the 30+ million just to take the show. Jay and Conan had a good run with NBC. Now it's time for other's to give America something fresh and new.
    Mountain View, California

  • emberglance says:

    You failed to mention his similarity to an engorged penis...
    But, in the interest of being Fair and Balanced, why no mention of the devastatingly successful 30 Rock?

  • Seth Abramovitch says:

    30 Rock ranked 109th, 94th and 69th place in each of its first three seasons. I wouldn't qualify that as devastatingly successful.

  • Mink Snuggie says:

    Heroes, while not a hit NOW, was most decidedly a hit for NBC during its first season. Just because it's a pariah now doesn't mean that it never existed, and never got respectable ratings.

  • emberglance says:

    True, I was thinking of all the awards. My comments re an engorged penis stand though.

  • karla karlottta says:

    Zucker is the model for corporate America. Fail, FU, blame underlings and get promoted.
    He's a power hungry, talentless hack who must hold some damaging film on higher ups. That's the only way I can see why he still has a job.
    And pox on the suckup NBC execs and stars who kiss his ass just to get their crappy shows on the air. Hear that Jerry?