Failure virtuoso Jeff Zucker—the man who singlehandedly dismantled NBC as an entertainment powerhouse, replaced Friends with likes of Good Morning Miami and Inside Schwartz, lost NBC Universal a billion dollars in ad revenue in just one year, brought a man named Donald Trump to your television screens, and bungled an attempted transition at NBC's Tonight Show franchise with a galactic ineptness that even at the remove of two years continues to strain credulity—is going to save CNN now!
Or so it would seem. The New York Times' headline reporting the move is exquisitely hedged: "A Struggling CNN Worldwide Is Said to Be Drawn to Jeffrey Zucker." And the story likewise awkwardly resists saying anything close to "Time Warner will hire Zucker to run CNN." The closest we get is this: "Several news executives close to Mr. Zucker said this week that they believed he had been chosen to run CNN.... People close to the Time Warner chief executive, Jeffrey L. Bewkes, also identified Mr. Zucker."
Well, if some people believe it.... Among those "executives close to Mr. Zucker" is almost certainly Jeff Zucker, whose close relationship to the Times—and his compulsive habit of managing his press coverage generally—is legendary. The joke when Zucker ran NBC's news division was that he spent all day on the phone with reporters, none of whom worked for him. And he has spent the two years since his departure from NBC Universal—fired at last!—whispering to various reporters about which high-profile media jobs he was up for. So it's inconceivable that he didn't play a role in getting the story of his almost-hiring believed by some people in the Times.
I'm sure Zucker will end up with the job—both because it would be madness for him to leak it before he had an agreement and because it would just be cosmically aligned with his almost mystical ability to get people to give him jobs he is demonstratively catastrophic for—but it's very weird for him to place the story out there without being able to say, on background at least, that he's actually got the gig.
It's also odd that he'd be so proud of landing the CNN chair—previously occupied by such lions of the business as Princell Hair and Jon Klein—that he had to rush it to the Times. His previous gig, of course, involved "running" some half a dozen cable networks—including a 24-hour news channel—on top of the NBC broadcast network. Going from that to just little 'ol CNN—and its various affiliated channels—is hard to view as anything but a humiliating step downward. Which is why some have speculated (to me, at least) that the move harbingers a coming acquisition at CNN parent Time Warner: Perhaps securing Zucker is a preliminary move to be followed up by purchasing a television network—ABC has been reportedly for sale for a couple years—for him to run.
Anyway: The man who brought you To Catch a Predator is going to be running CNN pretty soon.
[Image via AP]