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Industry Watch: Strange Case of NBC’s Jeff Zucker

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TV critics and industry insiders have been scratching their heads for weeks now, awaiting the bizarro confirmation that Jeff Zucker will be the new CEO of NBC Universal. Well effective yesterday, Zucker replaces Bob Wright, 63, who successfully steered the company through trying times: the merger with Vivendi, the onslaught of Internet and cable. But under Zucker’s watch as CEO of NBC’s television programming and distribution, the network dropped in ratings from the first to the fourth most-watched network during primetime (never able to recover after Friends went off the air in ’04). “Yes,” the site FireJeffZucker.com cries, “Zucker who doesn’t really like the online medium is now going to lead the company into the future of new media.” Good choice. How does a guy with a record this lame rise to the top?

Short of vaguely mentioning that he has “critics among the press and competitors,” no newspaper seems to be addressing this at length right now. (Perhaps everyone is a little stumped on this one.) But Nikki Finke does have this to offer: Explain to me, please, how Teflon Jeff, who for years has shrugged off responsibility for everything bad about NBC, gets away now with credit for anything good? Then again, at the worst of NBC’s fall, I was told this about Zucker’s ability to massage his bosses: “He is one of the most incredible people in the room about spinning a tale in the way he can talk about a negative situation and make it into a positive situation.” He’ll need to do that even more now.