Last week's corporate realignment at NBC didn't produce an eventual successor to company Chairman and CEO Bob Wright, but two executives—Jeff Zucker and Randy Falco—emerged as strong candidates.
NBC's realignment gives additional responsibilities for both Entertainment chief Zucker and Business and Operations head Falco. Station Group President Jay Ireland also added new duties. Zucker gets a new title, although it's not the much-speculated about corporate COO position (or something similar) previously held by Andrew Lack.
Wright told BROADCASTING & CABLE last week that identifying a number-two executive for the company isn't the point of the realignment. "We've got three people that have very large operating roles with Jeff, Randy and Jay. And then we have a number of people who are also in very visible positions. The issue from my standpoint was to try to simplify the organization."
Zucker was named president, entertainment, news and cable group, effectively putting him at the same corporate group-president level as Falco.
Wright said last week's moves reaffirm Zucker as the company's top programming executive and Falco as the top sales and business-operations executive. Both report to Wright.
For Kremlinologists trying to figure out who will someday replace Wright, though, the executive shuffle was inconclusive. Lack, the former NBC News president who became Wright's COO in 2001, was presumed next in line until he quit at the beginning of this year. He has since become chairman and chief executive of Sony Music.
Zucker has risen quickly at NBC, where he gained fame as the executive producer of the Today
show. But, while NBC still rules in the 18-49 demo in all dayparts, he hasn't found the magic hits to replace faltering (or at least departing) series, including Friends, ER
In a statement, NBC said the realignment was made to "better position NBC for the pending Universal merger."
What the announcement didn't address, for fear of riling regulators still vetting the merger, was how Universal would fit on the management chart once the merger is complete. However, sources suggest that it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that Universal's cable-programming duties (USA, Sci Fi and Trio) would fall under Zucker, while cable sales, distribution and operations would fall to Falco.
It is also believed that Vivendi Universal Entertainment head Ron Meyer would assume a corporate post on par with Zucker and Falco and report to Wright.
New duties for Zucker include oversight of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC; he'll continue to oversee NBC Entertainment, Bravo and Telemundo's prime time programming. NBC News President Neal Shapiro had reported directly to Wright and will now report to Zucker. (Ditto CNBC CEO Pamela Thomas-Graham.)
"Assuming the merger goes forward in the first half of next year, we have a brand-new company going forward," Zucker said last week. "What Bob is trying to do is structure this new company to make the most sense."
As to his new duties, Zucker said he "feels good about CNBC" but, "obviously, MSNBC has struggled. We are going to begin to focus anew on MSNBC."
Falco takes on the Telemundo network, which had reported to Zucker. In addition, he will continue as a key planner of the integration of Universal into the company. The two companies, he notes, are "pretty complementary." The flip side of that is there clearly is redundancy in the cable, sales and programming areas: "We'll get through that, and the best people on either side with survive. We're trying to come away with the best structure, not just the NBC structure" for integrating the two companies.
Falco's other immediate focus is analyzing the prospects for next spring's upfront sales marketplace. "It's early yet, but I suspect it will be a good upfront," he said. "I don't know if it will be a record-breaking upfront," but, if it comes close to this year's take that would "absolutely" be good news.
Ireland, who has been running the Telemundo station group on a de facto basis, now assumes official responsibility for the Spanish-language stations and will continue to report to Wright.