Zucker punch for NBC

Wright gives prexy the news plus oversight of b'cast & cable

This story was updated at 9:14 p.m. PT.

The leadership structure of the TV assets of NBC Universal came into sharper focus Monday, with NBC chairman-CEO Bob Wright putting a trio of key execs — Jeff Zucker, Randy Falco and Jay Ireland — in charge of all small-screen operations.

The moves, effective immediately, will free Wright to devote more of his time and energies to other parts of the Universal portfolio, particularly the film studio and the theme parks.

Zucker, who was prexy of NBC Entertainment, gained the most in the reorganization and will now oversee all programming aspects of the new company, on either a broadcast or a cable platform.

New to Zucker’s portfolio: NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC. (He already oversaw cabler Bravo.) Once the merger is complete, he’ll take on USA Network, Sci-Fi and Trio — though the announcement of those duties awaits the merger’s final approval.

Falco, NBC Television Group prexy, will be in charge of all ad sales and business operations while adding oversight of Telemundo (though Zucker will keep a hand in its primetime programming).

NBC Television Stations prexy Jay Ireland has been given the added responsibility of running Telemundo’s 15 owned-and-operated stations.

Loosening grip

Wright, who is loosening his grip on day-to-day operations as he’s fitted for the cape of media mogul, told Daily Variety it’s imperative that the combined NBC U TV properties be under strong leaders as he focuses on other areas of the company.

“I want and need strong people who are knowledgeable and very skilled,” said Wright. “I’ve got to gear myself up to be a little bit more of an expert in the film and parks business.”

Zucker, boasting the new title of prexy of Entertainment, News and Cable, also made official what everyone’s known for months: He’s moving back to New York full time. He’ll make the shift in May, when the NBC U merger is expected to close.

NBC development prexy Kevin Reilly wasn’t mentioned in Monday’s announcement, though that’s likely just a function of network politics.

Zucker has all but stated that Reilly will take over as prexy of NBC Entertainment post-merger, but other key gigs — such as who’ll run the new combined NBC/U studio arm or have day-to-day oversight of cable programming — have yet to be announced.

Loss of tentpoles

Reilly has also expressed a desire to spend his first year focusing on development, since NBC faces the loss of two comedy tentpoles next fall: “Friends” and “Frasier.”

It’s too soon to say who will present NBC’s new primetime lineup to advertisers in May, Zucker said.

Like Zucker, Falco — in charge of all ad sales and business operations — is a trusted member of Wright’s inner circle. Same goes for Ireland.

Wright said Falco is in a unique position to boost Telemundo, since he already handles ad sales, and that it made sense to put him in complete charge.

“Today we are announcing a realignment of our operations as part of our efforts to maximize our efficiency, especially as we look to the challenges ahead with the pending Universal merger and integration,” Wright said in a memo to all NBC employees.

Once the NBC U merger is completed, Vivendi Universal Entertainment prexy-COO Ron Meyer will join Wright’s circle. NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol also will continue to report directly to Wright.

Possible friction

Staffers at NBC News welcomed Zucker’s return to Gotham, but questioned whether there would be friction between Zucker and NBC News prexy Neal Shapiro.

Realignment means Shapiro will no longer report directly to Wright, but to Zucker. That gives NBC an exec structure similar to CBS’, where Leslie Moonves runs both entertainment and news (as well as everything else at the Eye, including the divisions that at NBC report to Falco and Ireland).

Zucker said he won’t micromanage, though MSNBC in particular might benefit from his production skills.

“I am here to help on the overreaching issues. I’m not going to get involved in what is on the news at 7:09 a.m. ET or what ‘Nightly News’ is leading with,” said Zucker, who helped “Today” establish its current winning streak.

Wright dismissed any suggestion of conflict between Zucker and Shapiro, who were fairly competitive when Zucker produced “Today” and Shapiro produced newsmag “Dateline.”

“Jeff had so much history that I think we can put NBC News with him. He and Neal are contemporaries and have worked together a lot,” Wright said.

‘Friendly rivals’

Shapiro echoed Wright’s sentiments, saying he and Zucker were nothing more than “friendly rivals” when both were producers.

“I think it’s great for the company and very smart,” Shapiro said. “We certainly have to streamline the company. I like it that programming will circle around one person.”

Like Shapiro, CNBC prexy-CEO Pamela Thomas-Graham will now report to Zucker, not to Wright.

Erik Sorenson, prexy of MSNBC, will, however, still report to Shapiro.

“I’m very fortunate because NBC News is in terrific shape and in great hands,” Zucker said. “Obviously, we are all aware that there has been a struggle at MSNBC and I hope that I can be of some help there.”

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