Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, is reportedly leaving with a "$30 million to $40 million" exit package after owner GE finalizes the network's sale to Comcast. If the report is true — and GE claims it is not — few will mourn the departure of the man who oversaw NBC's gradual decline during the 2000s. It was "abundantly clear that Zucker was running NBC into the ground" five years ago, says Jeff Bercovici at Daily Finance. "[His] only real accomplishment over the past decade has been to continue adding new lines to his résumé while the roof was crashing down around him." (Watch David Letterman's "Top Ten" about Jeff Zucker.) Here are some of the lowlights of Zucker's reign at NBC:
1. Failing to find a new Friends
As NBC's new wunderkind, says Seth Abromovitch at Movieline, Zucker did manage to lure the Friends cast back for one final, costly "but profitable" season (2002–03). Then, the newly named president of NBC's Entertainment, News, and Cable group proved incapable of greenlighting successful sitcoms: "The fruitless search for a Friends replacement produced some classic TV flops — from the all-CGI Siegfried & Roy sitcom Father of the Pride to Joey, aka Friends: Just the Retarded Characters."
2. Losing $1 billion
Zucker's reign as president of the entertainment division was marked by a steady decline in the network's fortunes. When he took the job, it owned the No. 1 spot in the 18-to-49 demographic. By 2005, it was last; in the middle of an economic boom, NBC's season-to-season revenue fell by $1 billion. Zucker's reward? A promotion to chief executive of NBC International.
3. Hiring Ben Silverman
In 2007, Zucker hired "young, overconfident turk" Ben Silverman as co-chairman of NBC Entertainment. Silverman produced "zero hits" for NBC and gained a reputation as a hard-living, unqualified egomaniac — cemented by regular attacks by Deadline Hollywood's Nikki Finke. He would depart in July 2009, his name a punchline, regarded as "Zucker's biggest and most embarrassing gaffe to date."
4. Taking on the writers
During the writers' strike of 2008, Zucker was "among those on the studio side rumored to be least sympathetic to the writers' demands." As if to prove it, he indulged in "a classic piece of Zuckerana," starring in a "trainwreck" video segment (watch it here) that aired before My Name is Earl. The clip's ostensible goal was to catch viewers up on the Earl plot, but Zucker, referring to himself breezily as "J.Z.", wove in digs at striking writers. "If it wasn't official yet, now it was," says Seth Abramovitch at Movieline. "Every writer in Hollywood hated, and still hates, Jeff Zucker."
In December 2008, Zucker enthusiastically announced Jay Leno's new primetime venture, The Jay Leno Show. Conceived as a "cheap-to-make replacement" for expensive drama series, it was an immediate flop when it premiered in September 2009. With affiliates in revolt and Leno's ratings in freefall, Zucker decided to reinstate Leno as host of "The Tonight Show." The resulting, highly public feud between the network and Leno's Tonight Show successor, Conan O'Brien, was a "spectacular bungle" that "irreversibly damaged" NBC's brand among young viewers — and likely cost Zucker his job.