Many years ago, NBC decided that the guy who came up with the idea of doing concerts on The Today Show would make a great network head. Now they are in last place. Except in jokes, where they are first.
Jeff Zucker is the chairman of NBC Universal. And no one is sure why. He made his name at The Today Show, where he proved really good at attention-grabbing gimmicks. Like: let's have a bunch of yokels with signs right behind the anchors! More of that adorable pixie Katie Couric! Make it three hours long! (And, eventually, four hours long!) That sort of thing. The Today Show was broadcast from a streetside studio in the 1950s, by the way. They also had a chimp for a mascot. Gimmicks always work on morning shows. And any moron can think of them.
But because he made a morning show popular and profitable, Zucker became the head of NBC Entertainment. He took over a network that still had Friends and Frasier and Will & Grace and E.R.. He came up with the brilliant idea of making some of the more popular shows slightly longer, sometimes (during sweeps). (This meant that there was a night, during sweeps week, when popular sitcom Will & Grace aired from 8:40-9:20 p.m. ET. Set your VCRs!) He also came up with the brilliant idea of replacing Friends with Joey, which finally answered the question, "what if the show had just been called Friend?"
NBC's 2005-2006 season was the worst it had seen in decades. So, naturally, when NBC Universal chairman Bob Wright finally resigned the next year, Jeff Zucker got his job! At that point, Zucker had already planted the seeds of this hilarious mess: in 2004, he told Conan he'd give him The Tonight Show in 2009. Leno had been making money for the network for years and showed no signs of stopping, but apparently Zucker thought the guy who still does standup every damn weekend after taping five terrible but very professional shows during the week would be tired of show business after five more years. While some people greeted this news with relief that our long national nightmare of Jay Leno was almost over, it made no sense at all from a network programming standpoint, even at the time. 54-year-old Leno was high-rated and popular and loved his job. 59-year-old Leno was not going to retire. He was going to go to another network.
(Zucker also replaced a fairly successful network programmer with Ben Silverman in 2007, and then refused to fire Ben Silverman for two years, as Ben Silverman basically destroyed the remains of NBC's primetime lineup.)
Jeff Zucker is a failure and an idiot. A child could run a network better than this. Like, for example, a bright child could've predicted that cheaply produced late-night comedy at 10 p.m. would not attract an audience as large as real TV, and that it would destroy the lead-in for local news, piss off affiliates, ruin ratings for everything airing on the network after 10 p.m., and destroy two profitable long-running franchises. That negates the little profit you were hoping to squeeze out by airing actual garbage in prime time. A child also understands that you cannot promise to give the same thing to two different people.
There was a time, a couple years back, when CBS was in the tank, and Letterman spent night after night specifically mocking, by name, CBS President Les Moonves. It was wonderful TV. Letterman is a crank, of course, but once CBS recovered, he stopped. Moonves may be a prick, but CBS is on top. Conan doesn't have Letterman's killer instinct, but the time might be right to switch from the "NBC" jokes to Jeff Zucker jokes. Amusingly, they know each other: when they were at Harvard, Conan was with The Harvard Lampoon and Zucker was the president of The Harvard Crimson.
As a prank, O'Brien's staff stole all the Crimson issues one day before they could be delivered. Zucker called the cops. "My first meeting with Jeff Zucker was in handcuffs, with a Cambridge police officer reading me my rights," says O'Brien.
See? Humorless asshole then, humorless asshole now.
Jeff Zucker did something incredibly dumb: he screwed a comedian. A comedian with a TV show. A comedian that other comedians like. You don't do that unless you really want your dumb decisions ripped to shreds on your own (and everyone else's) network every night. And Zucker did this while attempting to keep his job in the event of a successful Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal.
So: it's time to go, Jeff! It is time to go and be forgotten forever except as a character, hopefully to be played by Bob Balaban, in some future made-for-cable movie about how NBC died.