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Zucker Can Take Whatever Critics Dish Out

August 13, 2008 6:15 PM

Jeff Zucker

If Jeff Zucker has any regrets about Jay Leno’s likely departure from NBC, he’s not letting on.

In an interview with Portfolio magazine, the NBC Universal president and CEO said agreeing to make Conan O’Brien the host of “The Tonight Show” was a decision that had to be made.

“You have to make these calls,” Mr. Zucker told the magazine. “You’d rather make these calls a little too soon than a little too late.”

While NBC Universal had taken plenty of media heat over the NBC broadcast network’s continued fourth-place status, Portfolio serves up a rather upbeat profile of Mr. Zucker, painting him as a forward-thinking executive trying to reinvent the TV business.

The magazine acknowledges that much of Hollywood remains skeptical, particularly of NBC’s announcement that it was dramatically cutting back the number of pilots it producers.

“There’s a lot of mansions built in these hills on the old ways of doing business, and they would like to perpetuate that,” Mr. Zucker said. “I think they find this very threatening.”

Mr. Zucker gets some backup from his Los Angeles deputy, NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silveraman. “There are moments of loneliness when you are out in front,” Mr. Silverman observed.

And despite continued buzz that GE might try to sell NBC post-Olympics, Mr. Zucker’s boss—GE chief Jeffrey Immelt—once again denies anything is in the works.

“There’s nothing to that (rumor) ever,” he said, calling the notion “a concoction of other people. It hasn’t come from inside G.E. This is an inherently good business in a profitable business, and one we run very well.”

Mr. Zucker, a cancer survivor, claims he doesn’t get worked up over criticism.

“I’ve woken up in a hospital bed after surgery twice with staples in my stomach, in more pain than anyone should be allowed in their lives,” he says. “I’ve gone through chemo for nine months, vomiting my guts out afterward, then gone back into the hospital. If people want to take shots, hey, I’ve had more pain than anyone can give me.”

Josef Adalian

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