General Electric chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt says Jeff Zucker’s performance through tough times at NBC helped him land his new job as president and CEO of NBC Universal.
“The board and I particularly liked the way he handled tough times, never got down, always drove the company harder,” Immelt said.
Zucker will report to the man he replaces, Bob Wright, until the end of April, then directly to Immelt. Immelt will then assume the role of NBC Universal chairman.
The company does not plan on replacing Zucker’s position.
As for Wright, Immelt said he hopes the outgoing NBC Universal chief will remain as vice chair until early 2008.
“So does Bob,” Wright quipped.
Immelt said while Zucker had been the leading candidate to replace Wright, he became convinced late in 2006 the former Today producer was the right man for the job.
“Once we reached that conclusion, I don’t think there is reason to wait,” Immelt said. “This just seemed like the right time to do it.”
Immelt also gave a vote of confidence to the entertainment division on the west coast, as the network appears to finally be turning around its primetime doldrums.
“They are taking the right risks in my opinion,” Immelt said.
That statement bodes well for NBC U executives such as network entertainment chief Kevin Reilly, whose contract is up this year at a time he has engineered positive momentum in primetime at the network for the first time in years.
As Zucker steps into his new role, he acknowledges he has steeper learning curves in areas such as theme parks and the film side. And with that in mind, he knows he will have to scale down his involvement in the television side and rely more on his deputies.
“I will clearly look to them to lead their respective divisions, at he same time where I can be of help and assist and push where I need to push I will be involved,” Zucker says. “But I don’t think I will be as hands on in the day to day running any of [the television businesses] unless it’s called for.”
As for who those deputies will be, Zucker said he expects to make the next round of executive announcements soon.
Zucker also made clear that while the NBC U 2.0 cost-cutting initiative could lead to more measures in areas such as news, it does not necessitate a cut-back in production.
“We have no plans to scale that back,” he says. “There is no change in the amount of films we are making, and on the TV side we are investing more money in our television studio this year than we ever have in terms of the amount of new production we are doing.”