NBCU Set to Name Zucker Chief This Week, Sources Say

Feb 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Jeff Zucker this week probably will be named chief of NBC Universal, replacing Bob Wright, people familiar with the matter said.

The announcement that Mr. Wright is stepping down could come as early as Tuesday. While the date of the change of command remained unclear Sunday, sources said it would be sooner than many people anticipated, perhaps immediately.

The transition is expected to take months.

Zucker, 41, takes over an entertainment conglomerate that Mr. Wright has run since General Electric bought the NBC broadcast network in 1986. Mr. Wright expanded operations to create an empire that includes cable networks, a film operation and theme parks.

Mr. Wright, 63, is expected to remain NBC Universal chairman during the transition, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, which first reported that Mr. Zucker was expected to be named chief.

Under Mr. Wright’s leadership, NBC Universal became the dominant network in the 1990s. Its long reign on top ended during the 2003-04 television season, when it dropped from the No. 1-rated network in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic to No. 4. Under Mr. Wright, NBC Universal hasn’t established itself as a digital power.

In 2000, Mr. Wright dispatched Mr. Zucker, the wunderkind executive producer of the “Today” show, to Burbank as the network’s top entertainment executive. When Mr. Zucker returned to NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters in New York in 2004, after NBC’s ratings plummeted, many thought his fast rise had run into a road block of his own creation.

But Mr. Zucker built a close relationship with GE chairman Jeff Immelt, who took the reigns from Jack Welch in 2001. In late 2005, Mr. Immelt made NBC Universal management changes that established Mr. Zucker as Mr. Wright’s No. 2. It also brought in well-regarded GE (and former NBC) executive Beth Comstock as president of NBC Universal Digital Media and Market Development.

In a New York Times article last year, Mr. Immelt suggested that Mr. Wright would not remain at the helm of NBC Universal for as long as Mr. Wright had hoped.

Late in 2006, three top NBC Universal executives left the company, and Mr. Zucker took the opportunity to put his own stamp on the management structure and consolidate his power.

He announced NBC Universal 2.0, a plan to cut $700 million in annual costs by the end of 2008. He can also point to improved performance of NBC Universal’s cable operations and to signs of life in the NBC Universal prime-time lineup. The network has been buoyed by instant hit “Heroes,” launched by NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly.

(Editor: Baumann)