Jeff Zucker, the television executive who formerly headed NBCUniversal, was named the new president of worldwide operations for Cable News Network (CNN) last week.
Zucker will oversee a sprawling news operation with 4,000 employees and channels around the globe that is expected to generate a record $600 million in profit this year for Turner Broadcasting, the Time Warner Inc. unit that houses CNN.
In recent years, CNN has struggled to keep pace with fellow cable news rivals Fox and MSNBC.
“CNN has lost its luster,” said Christopher Harper, a former ABC News correspondent and journalism professor at Temple University. “It hasn’t adapted to what the audience wants, which is more fireworks.”
Zucker too lost his luster and created plenty of fireworks both as head of entertainment for NBC and later as chief executive of NBCUniversal. Under his watch, ratings for NBC declined sharply and his efforts to rejuvenate its prime-time lineup with a show hosted by Jay Leno blew up and embarrassed the network. He was pushed out after NBCUniversal was taken over by cable company Comcast Corp. last year.
“There is no doubt I made mistakes in the entertainment world, and I own those,” Zucker said, adding that “you only become a better executive and manager if you learn from your mistakes.”
Turner Broadcasting Chairman Phil Kent, to whom Zucker will report, said Zucker’s rocky run at NBCUniversal was irrelevant for this job.
“I’m very familiar with all of Jeff’s successes and all the things he probably wishes might have turned out better,” Kent said. “I was looking for someone who would be a great leader of a news organization… It’s pretty easy to figure out why I wanted him to do this job.”
CNN was founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. Upon its launch, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the United States.
Zucker currently serves as an Executive in Residence at Columbia Business School and is the outgoing producer of Katie Couric’s daytime talk show. He was born to a Jewish family in Homestead, Fla., near Miami. His father was a cardiologist and his mother was a school teacher. Zucker was diagnosed at age 31 with colon cancer. He worked through two bouts of it, had a large part of his colon removed, and then had more than a year of chemotherapy. In 1996, he married Caryn Stephanie Nathanson, then a supervisor for Saturday Night Live, with whom he has four children.
“The key is that CNN remain true to its ideals of great journalism but at the same time be vibrant and exciting,” Zucker said. “Just because you’re not partisan doesn’t mean you can’t be exciting.”
Zucker replaces Jim Walton, who announced this summer that he was leaving.