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NBC's Jeff Zucker has given up

by Allison Waldman, posted Mar 20th 2009 12:55PM
Zucker NBCDid you hear this one, folks? NBC is throwing in the towel. The boss of bosses, NBC Universal CEO, the head honcho himself, Jeff Zucker, was at an industry event recently and declared, "I don't think we'll ever be able to say, 'NBC is number one in prime time.'"

Okay, there it is. The man has given up. He's basically admitting that his product is inferior and he doesn't think he'll ever catch up with his competitors. So, as a TV viewer, I have to wonder why I should invest in anything Zucker churns out at NBC if he doesn't believe that he's ever going to be number one again?

Think about it, would you want to eat dinner at a restaurant where the chef thinks he's never going to be the best in the business? If you were looking for fill the top spot at a network, is this the executive you would want in charge?

I've been down on Zucker before. I think the Jay Leno in prime time, five nights a week, is a mistake and I don't like the idea of NBC abdicating the 10 o'clock hour to the other networks. I don't care that this was an idea floated in the 1980's with Johnny Carson. It was a dumb idea then and it's a dumb idea now. If it turns out to be a success, I'll eat my mouse, okay?

But here's the thing about Zucker; he's a defeatist. Why isn't he fighting to make NBC the number one network again? I get all the new media/new business model malarky that he extols. The days of big ratings might be in the past, but how does he explain Fox's American Idol or CBS's success with all the CSIs? These shows are not apparitions. NBC could bounce back to the top. It's not out of the realm of possibility, but not when you have a CEO who is running up a white flag of surrender.

Here's my suggestion for NBC Universal: offer Jeff Zucker early retirement. Send him away. Get someone who has the fire and desire to get NBC back to number one, someone who has the vision to develop the TV shows and program them with an eye to long-term success. Zucker's had more than enough chances and while there was a time when NBC could at least claim victory in demographics and the bottom line, these days the network is just looking sad.

I want NBC back. I want the next Seinfeld or Cosby or ER or Heroes (like it was in season one), but it's not going to happen with Jeff -- "we'll never be number one again" -- Zucker at the helm!

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I blame NBC's being in 4th place for not being supportive of some shows. I also think that they put too much emphasis on some mediocre reality shows that don't do well in the ratings. How can you be so obsessed with Law and Order and reality shows and not support a show like Friday Night Lights? And showing Deal or No Deal more than one night a week was a bit too much--it should have been on once a week. I like 30 Rock and the Office but they don't pull in the audiences on Thursdays like '80s hit Cosby or '90s hits Seinfeld and Friends. And Life and Medium deserved to be promoted just as much as the eponymous Law and Order. I don't understand why Jeff Zucker doesn't aggressively promote the shows on his network like CBS and Fox handle theirs. It's really hard to top Brandon Tartikoff's superior run in the '80s on NBC when they were once No. 1. And the network needs to make more new and creative original shows, not a remake of an '80s hit like Knight Rider that's had average ratings. But they need to have a good mix of shows that will gravitate viewers to their network. I've not been impressed with them in the 5 years since Friends ended its 10-year run. It's not about the big hit of their network either--it's the other shows that contribute to NBC's success.

March 21 2009 at 10:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Remember... their other channel, cable's USA, often gets better ratings that WB/CBS' fifth NETWORK channel, the CW. So while NBC might be in 4th, you could argue USA is in 5th (I read an article recently where Zucker does just that).

Monk, Psych, Burn Notice, wrestling, even House re-runs pull in bigger numbers than the CW -- so as a company as a whole, they're not doing too bad.

But the NBC network certainly has a weird tinge to it these days. It started for me when their branding and advertising in the corners started taking over other shows (this was about 2 or 3 years ago). They started to seem a bit "hack-y", whereas the company has such a storied history that things should be a little more classy.

Still, despite my problems with the network, I watch quite a few NBC shows (Chuck, Heroes, 30 Rock, The Office, Life, SNL, Conan) and even more USA and NBC Universal-produced shows (Monk, Psych, House).

March 21 2009 at 3:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Jeff Zucker has failed to learn from his predecessors, if you have a quality show but the ratings aren't there you keep the show on the air. Cheers was the worst rated show yet it built up steam to become #1.

March 21 2009 at 1:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Reading the whole piece, it certainly doesn't sound like he has given up.

March 20 2009 at 8:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to GL's comment

Jeff Zucker hasn't given up on leading a major media company in the production and distribution of content that will be very popular among the masses and make billions of dollars.

What he has given up on is limiting his competition to the incumbent powers that be. NBCUni, along with the other major media orgs are legacy organizations that are not immune to new, emerging competition. He recognizes that.

Over the air TV is on the most part unprofitable due to way too many fees and FCC regulations to the point where only large corporations can own individual stations. The decades old model of broadcast network television is dead, even though TV Squad (and many fans of the medium, myself included) don't want to concede that.

March 20 2009 at 9:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The fact that Jeff Zucker remains in charge of NBC after he has seen it go from the very top to the very bottom isn't even funny anymore.

March 20 2009 at 5:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Stewart

Wouldn't that attitude in any other business setting get your fired?

March 20 2009 at 4:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have seen this argument of TV Squad on many occasions. This post once again is in favor of the preservation of the legacy model of network television. Allison Waldman, as well as other writers here on this blog long for the days when the TV business lived and died based on what shows a network programmed and at what time.

Those days are over. They ran a long time, but not forever. Throughout the history of media, as newer forms are created, the older ones don't necessarily become obsolete, but their usage does change.

Look at radio. Remember that CBS, NBC and ABC (which was actually a spinoff of NBC) started as radio networks with prime time shows, which were appointment radio. When TV was created, all that creative energy left radio. Did radio go out of business then? No. The focus shifted to music and talk radio and such.

Heck, look at this blog. It is a division of AOL. 10 years ago, AOL was a very different company, with a core focus in dial up internet connections. Nowadays, that need is obsolete, so the AOL brand has repurposed itself as a content provider, owning companies like Weblogs, Inc. The TV business is doing the EXACT SAME THING!

One major element of the TV business has died this decade, which is another reason TV is no longer the same: the half hour sitcom. These were THE most profitable tv programs since the reruns can be sold over and over again into syndication. However, fewer people are even watching syndicated reruns, so why risk the millions in development money when you won't get the return you would have in the past?

I probably watch more NBC shows than any other network, so I don't care if its the #1 network. Most of that is on DVR, so I no longer care WHEN the show is on although I do like to watch my shows the night they air. If I didn't have a DVR, there's always Hulu.

CBS is "#1" on the technicality that they aim for the highest audience, and not necessarily the younger demographic who is still developing brand allegiances. They get the most viewers, but not necessarily the most ad revenue. But this kind of business is not going to last forever, like the oil industry.

In short: TV is changing. TV Squad's writers don't want it to change, even though TV Squad's parent company made similar changes to the point that they own TV Squad.

March 20 2009 at 2:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jimmy's comment


March 21 2009 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hate to disagree with most of you, but NBC's programming is mostly crap. Maybe I'm the wrong demographic to like crappy shows like My Name is Earl and Kath & Kim. Personally, I think 30 Rock is over-rated and The Office a snoozefest compared to its British version. ER has been in a slow fade and probably should have been cancelled a year ago -- and I'm a fan who still watches. Monday is OK, thanks mostly to Chuck. Heroes may be forever ruined because of the Villains fiasco and Medium just isn't as interesting as it used to be. Tuesday is what? Biggest Loser and SVU? Boring. Wednesday is an utter mess. Friday's only saving grace is Friday Night Lights but it's saddled with crappy reality and news programs that don't cater to the same demo as FNL. Saturday, which in the past was one of NBC's huge nights, is a wasteland. Sunday has the intriguing new Kings, but with it's crappy ratings it won't be around long.

What exactly is there to watch on NBC other than maybe, maybe, 4 or 5 good shows? You can't sustain a network on that. Jeff Zucker has only himself to blame. He's kept programs on the air long after they should be gone and there is a total lack of originality and a willingness to take chances at the network. I mean, I'm surprised Kings even made it past the pilot stage with it's originality and risk-taking. Of course, with no one watching NBC they're limited in their ability to even advertise new programming because there are no real hits to advertise with.

I just hope Zucker doesn't ruin USA. They have some great, original, risky programming on that network -- some of which is being watched more than the broadcast network shows. The fact that Zucker is giving up on even trying to improve NBC says a lot about him. It says a lot about GE that they promote such an obvious moron and allow Ben Silverman to stick around.

March 20 2009 at 2:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Zucker is lucky Jack Welch is not CEO and hasn't since he's been in charge. No way would this guy still have a job, let alone been promoted as has been.

March 20 2009 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to const's comment

Jack Donagy is a far better head of NBC than Zucker...

March 20 2009 at 2:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why does it matter if they're #1? From a business perspective, as long as they are profitable, it doesn't matter. If programs like American Idol are the most watched, I'd much rather them make high quality programs that cater to a smaller audience than to try and make more American Idol clones simply for bragging rights.

March 20 2009 at 2:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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