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WarnerMedia’s Jeff Zucker: Profiting from Live TV

Brandon Tartikoff’s legacy as a programmer has had a great impact on both the larger TV industry and on the individual executives who have gone on to win the Legacy Award.

“I think everyone in this business has followed his path, his understanding of television programming and the value of creating programing that is both high quality and commercial,” said CNN Worldwide president and WarnerMedia News and Sports chairman Jeff Zucker, who started his career at NBC in 1986, at the height of Tartikoff’s influence on TV programming. “But he was also very generous and gracious with advice and I was lucky to personally benefit from that. … To be mentioned in the same sentence with Brandon Tartikoff is both humbling and a tremendous honor.”

Like Tartikoff, Zucker’s career took off quickly. After graduating from Harvard University, Zucker got a job at NBC in 1986 as a researcher and quickly rose up the ranks, becoming the executive producer of Today in 1992, turning the venerable wake-up show into a ratings juggernaut. “We brought the Today show back to No. 1 and made it the most profitable show on television in the 1990s,” Zucker said.

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More successes followed. During Zucker’s tenure as president of NBC Entertainment from 2000-04, NBC remained No. 1. While he served as president of NBCUniversal’s television properties between 2004 and 2007, new cable-network programming strategies boosted ratings. As president and CEO of NBCUniversal from 2007 to 2011, he led some pioneering digital initiatives, working with News Corp. to co-found Hulu in 2007.

In 2012, Zucker took the top job at CNN, where he invested heavily in digital platforms and new programming, including the critically acclaimed Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.

While CNN continues to lag Fox News Channel in ratings, its digital operations are the largest in the world, with an average of roughly 162 million monthly unique visitors in 2019, and financial results have been strong. “The last six years have been the most profitable in the history of CNN, with more than $1 billion in [yearly] profits now,” Zucker said.

As chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, Zucker remains very much a hands-on producer for big events like presidential debates, town halls and election coverage. “News and sports have remained the most resilient parts of the television game and overseeing all of our live properties makes it a very exciting and relevant part of our business,” Zucker said.