He will immediately focus on CNN’s morning lineup. Zucker — who is exec-producing a daytime syndicated talk show starring his former “Today” star, Katie Couric — made his name as executive producer of NBC’s morning show during its glory days.
Zucker, who will begin his new job in January, assumes executive oversight not only of CNN/U.S., but also of CNN International, CNN.com and HLN, among the operation’s 23 branded news and information businesses.
He’s replacing Jim Walton, who announced in July that he would step down at the end of this year after his unsuccessful attempts to stem the flow of viewers from CNN in the United States.
Zucker started his 25-year career with NBC as a researcher for NBC Sports’s coverage of the 1988 Summer Olympics. By the time he left, he was president and chief executive of NBC Universal.
He was named executive producer of “Today” in 1992, a gig he held for eight years — when the show was the most-watched morning-infotainment series and wildly profitable for the network. (Just recently, ABC’s “Good Morning America” ended the show’s 16-year winning streak.)
Based on that success, Zucker began exec-producing “NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw” — also a big success.
Based on his achievements in the news division, NBC named him president of NBC Entertainment — a head-scratcher for industry folks in Los Angeles given that he had no prime-time series development experience. Among his first series orders was “Emeril” — which seemed to confirm their worst fears.
Zucker does get credit for persuading the producers of “Friends” to add about 10 minutes of programming (and a couple of commercial breaks at “Friends” ad rates) to the then-old-but-still-kicking sitcom — introducing the country to “supersized” sitcoms.
On the other hand, he’s also the guy who gave a Thursday time slot to the reality-competition series “The Apprentice,” marking the start of the end of NBC’s Thursday-night lineup as the Holy Grail of scripted TV.
And Zucker’s the guy who famously orchestrated Conan O’Brien’s move to “The Tonight Show” in 2009, simultaneously creating a 10 o’clock weeknight “strip” for Jay Leno — which would be sooo much cheaper than running scripted drama series in that hour every night. And when Leno’s show tanked and Conan’s wasn’t doing well, either — and NBC affiliate TV stations threatened to preempt Leno’s show on a fairly impressive scale — Zucker orchestrated Leno’s move back to 11:30 p.m. That bumped “Tonight” and Conan to a later time slot, prompting Conan to resign rather than let Zucker damage the iconic late-night franchise.
That was pretty epic — people are still talking about it.