Jeff Zucker, former NBC Universal president and CEO, shed light on the in-the-works Katie Couric daytime program he's helping produce for ABC, saying the syndicated show will marry both the effervescent Today-era Couric and the hard news-minded anchor of more recent vintage.
Zucker spoke at PromaxBDA in New York Wednesday morning. "It will be what people have missed for a long time, the Katie [from Today]," he said. "She's big enough to have fun and be serious, all in one show. That's really what you'll see. That's what her brand is."
Zucker did not seem to relish talking about the Couric project. It was not brought up by interviewer Ali Velshi, a CNN anchor and the network's chief business correspondent. When a reporter in the half-full Hilton ballroom asked about the Couric show at the close of the fireside chat, Zucker jokingly got to his feet and said the session had come to a close.
With Promax being a show about branding, Zucker said Couric possesses one of the great brands in television-the rare individual who's identified by a first name alone. "Credibility and fun-that's the hope we take into that program," he said. "It's a tremendous opportunity. We think she's the one to fill that stage and fill that role."
Zucker departed NBC in February, after Comcast took control of the company. Velshi focused on Zucker's past, including his triumphs--such as being named executive producer of Today at 26--and missteps while chief executive. "It was a fantastic 25 years," said Zucker, sporting a brace on his right forearm to aid what he described as a serious case of tennis elbow.
Of course, it wasn't all fantastic. Zucker acknowledged NBC's grave difficulty in turning out primetime hits after an extraordinary run in the ‘90s and early 2000s. "In a world where 90% of shows fail, we had a lot of failure in comedy development," he said. "I feel terribly about that."
Zucker was forthright about perhaps his most high profile failure, which was removing Jay Leno from the Tonight Show chair, elevating Conan O'Brien to that role, and launching Jay in primetime. Zucker said it was a worthwhile strategy that simply did not pan out. "It was a very unfortunate period we went through," he said. "It wasn't pleasant for anybody...a lot of people got hurt in that process.
"At the end of the day it's my responsibility," Zucker added. "I signed off on it."
Zucker said the late night shakeup plan had a lot of backers at NBC. "You probably can't find them right now," he quipped.
Amidst all the game changing technology, such as Netflix, the iPad and other mobile devices, Zucker said it's a "fascinating time" to be in the media business. "Consumption is stronger than ever," he said. "This is the Golden Age of media."
Zucker believes broadcast television nonetheless remains in an ideal position to own big-draw TV events, suggesting Sunday Night Football, The Voice, American Idol and X Factor-all DVR-thwarting, real-time programs--could claim the top four spots on television this coming season.
"Each needs to be seen when they air-there's immediacy to those unscripted programs," he said. "It's the live, big events that are what really drive a lot of broadcast television right now."
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