Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal, has assumed the reins of a company that Bob Wright built into a media powerhouse for parent company General Electric. As Mr. Wright steps away, TelevisionWeek Editor Greg Baumann spoke with Mr. Zucker for his reflections on Mr. Wright’s tenure.
TelevisionWeek: You have spent your whole career in television in the house that Bob Wright built. Can you remember the first time you met him?
Jeff Zucker: It was in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. I was working at our Pagoda Studio in the Seoul Olympic Park with Bob Costas on the Late Night Olympic Show. I remember vividly when Bob and Suzanne Wright walked into the Pagoda to visit.
TVWeek: What did you learn from Mr. Wright about running a media company?
Mr. Zucker: I would say that Bob always had great vision and the ability to look around corners and see what was coming when others couldn’t see it. And I think he was very demanding, but in a positive way. And that pushed excellence throughout the company. I think those are the cornerstones of any successful business.
TVWeek: What are the biggest coups of Mr. Wright’s career?
Mr. Zucker: Well I would say probably the two that come to mind are his early push of the company into cable. He had obviously come from a cable background and so I think he was familiar with where the world was going. He got us into cable beginning with CNBC, then later MSNBC and obviously much later on Bravo, USA and Sci-Fi. He got us into cable in a way that has really secured the success of the company. Obviously his vision of combining NBC and Universal to create a really international media giant was the other crowning achievement of his career.
TVWeek: Are there any hallmarks of Mr. Wright’s leadership style that will carry forward once he steps away?
Mr. Zucker: I think his demand for content excellence and fiscal responsibility are hallmarks of any good media executive and those are things that we will try to make sure that we continue to home in on.
TVWeek: What message has Mr. Wright left with you in terms of navigating a digital future in entertainment?
Mr. Zucker: He’s been very clear that we have to make the transition from an analog world to a digital world and we can’t be intimidated. We have to move quickly and swiftly and be conscious of not getting left behind in the old analog world.
TVWeek: Is there a moment you can recall that shows Mr. Wright at his best as a media executive? A key moment in a transaction?
Mr. Zucker: I vividly remember the summer four years ago where we were negotiating with Vivendi on the acquisition of Universal and his leadership through that summer proved incredibly adept and skilled, and that is what led to the ultimate merger.