Executives at NBC-Universal are smacking their foreheads over an interview General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt gave Ron Grover at Business Week today, in which the current top dog made it clear that come what may, his man Jeff Zucker will still have a job.
That’s the message coming from between the lines of Immelt ‘s remarks :
“He’s a smart, tough media executive who is not afraid of change at a very difficult time for the media industry,” Immelt said, apparently without having looked at Leno’s ratings.
Immelt adds: “I think he’s as good as anyone running a media company today, and he’s only 42 years old.” Zucker is 44, as Grover points out.
Cynical, critical-minded, eeevil journalists have long skewered Zucker as one of the luckiest sons of guns working in television -- the man who, objectively, has presided over NBC’s fall from first to fourth place among broadcast networks and whose movie studio now dangles far behind the other majors.
This kind of blind support is infuriating those who work beneath Zucker.
“Here’s the guy who destroyed 'The Tonight Show,'” said one bewildered top executive. “Destroyed Conan O’Brien. He’s ruined the primetime line-up. 'Southland' is one of the best shows on TV, and it’s gone. He’s destroyed NBC.”
Well, this is the kind of thing you used to hear from competitors. Zucker is well known as an executive highy skilled at managing up. Looks like he’s not done such a good job managing down.
But this well-timed interview also suggests that Immelt is positioning any sale to Comcast to include a role for Zucker, who may be retained expressly to guard GE’s 49 percent interest.
So ... yeah. What’s up with that deal we first told you about two weeks ago?
Nobody I know believes the latest round of sniffing around the edges of NBC-Universal by NewsCorp or Liberty Media. (And thanks to Joe Flint for pointing up the heavy breathing in those reports. We now forgive him for rewriting our story break with a by-the-by credit near the bottom. 's ok, Joe.)
What I am hearing from inside and around the deal is that indeed the Comcast deal to buy 51 percent of NBC-Universal is done in principle, but it will be several more weeks before anything official is announced.
“They’ve all agreed to agree,” is how one executive with knowledge of the deal put it.
If that’s the case, then Vivendi will not need to prepare an IPO to exercise its 20 percent put of NBC-Universal.
Then ... out with the old boss, in with the new boss. And we can all prepare for the new culture change at NBC-Universal -- yet again.