Conde “built” Telemundo, one Hollywood executive tells TheWrap
The sudden ascension of Telemundo’s Cesar Conde on Monday to become the head of all of NBC News operations stunned many inside the network — especially since many assumed that NBC News President Noah Oppenheim would inherit the job from Andy Lack, who announced his exit on Monday after a bumpy five-year run.
Conde was elevated so far, in fact, that he now occupies a position that didn’t even exist before: NBCUniversal News Group’s chairman, overseeing not only NBC News and MSNBC as Lack did, but CNBC as well.
Born in New York but raised in Miami, Conde joined NBCUniversal in 2013 and two years later was elevated to become chairman of the company’s international group as well as Telemundo Enterprises. Under his leadership, Telemundo has challenged Univision for the Spanish-language crown. Over the past few calendar years, Telemundo was the highest-rated Spanish-language network in America among adults 18-49 in weekday primetime. Univision is still the highest-rated and most-watched Spanish-language network in Monday through Sunday primetime, however, as well as within the confines of the traditional September to May and September to September seasons.
“Cesar was over at Telemundo so he has quite a bit of news experience but he’s also known as quite a good manager,” one NBC News staffer said, pointing out Conde’s roles on boards like that of Pepsi Co. “It’s not surprising that he would be elevated to this role.”
The NBC News insider also downplayed any notion of a snub for Oppenheim given the beefed-up job description for Conde’s new position. “You may have read that Steve Burke said that he was likely to be heir apparent, but Andy’s role doesn’t exist anymore,” the insider said, referencing former NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke telling Variety last year that Oppenheim would “end up running NBC News” when Lack stepped down. It is, they said, “a completely different role.”
One Hollywood executive similarly praised Conde as a “smart guy” who did a “great job at Telemundo”: “He built it.”
Conde’s elevation is also a sign of new NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell’s willingness to place his immediate stamp on his fiefdom as he prepares to succeed Steve Burke, who last December announced his plans to retire effective this August.
“Jeff is a guy who wants his imprint on things. He didn’t wait for Steve to leave the building,” the Hollywood insider said of Monday’s executive shakeup at NBCUniversal, which also Mark Lazarus’ promotion to oversee all broadcast and TV operations as well as the company’s new streaming service, Peacock. “They’re interesting choices. Qualified people. But it’s a Wild West there. Jeff wants his people in those jobs. Jeff was impressed by what (Conde) did at Telemundo. We all were.”
Conde has earned a reputation for savvy and strategic leadership, destined for a vertical corporate climb. In 2013, Michael Wolff described him like this: “Conde, at 39, has a carefully curated Wikipedia entry, which includes estimable professional parents, Harvard, a stint as a White House fellow, a background in investment banking, membership on the Council of Foreign Relations and a long-time place on Fortune magazine’s ’40 under 40’ list. It is very much the résumé of a corporate politician rather than a business operator.”
Still, some see Monday’s restructuring as less of a sign of Conde’s merits than the need to change course after Lack and Oppenheim’s oversight led to unwelcome headlines about a workplace culture that led to accusations of sexual misconduct by executives (including Lack himself) as well as on-air talent such as “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer and MSNBC’s Mark Halperin and Chris Matthews, all of whom resigned.
Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of the women’s group UltraViolet, on Monday praised Lack’s exit. “Today’s announcement that Lack will be stepping down and that his chief ally Noah Oppenheim, who similarly silenced abuse survivors, has been sidelined, is a positive development that suggests NBC is beginning to take issues regarding its workplace culture seriously,” she said in a statement, citing previous accusations about Lack’s behavior as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC since 2015.
Last year, Lack and Oppenheim were widely criticized for their handling of Ronan Farrow’s investigation into Harvey Weinstein at NBC News after the reporter revealed all the roadblocks he faced at the network in his book, “Catch and Kill.” Included in his book were accusations, which have repeatedly been denied by NBC News, that executives were aware of the sexual misconduct accusations against former “Today” anchor Matt Lauer earlier than they admitted and succumbed to pressure from Weinstein to kill Farrow’s reporting about his behavior toward women.