Finally, a Better Understanding of Zucker-Vision

Quote of the day: NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, speaking at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit, explaining the changes at NBC in the context of moving Jay Leno into the 10 p.m. hour: “Sometimes, you see the world more clearly when you’re flat on your back.”

Zucker
Actually, when you’re flat on your back, what you usually see is just blue sky, which is clearly what’s in Zucker’s line of view in putting that kind of positive spin on the move. Although I suspect Leno will do OK, the decision to strip him in primetime will undoubtedly further weaken NBC vis-a-vis its competitors and, more significantly, leaves the network with no fall-back position in failure. If Leno inexplicably tanks, in other words, how do you fill a gaping five-hour hole? What’s next, Dr. Phil?

Then again, Zucker’s tenure since moving to NBC Entertainment and then up the corporate ladder has been characterized by short-term thinking — the kind of we’ll-fix-it-on-the-fly approach he used in his successful stint running the “Today” show. The problem is that network TV, anyway, requires a better grasp of longterm planning than that, which partially explains why NBC’s primetime lineup does indeed find itself flat on its back, despite the news division’s continued strength.

Then again, Zucker stressed in his comments, as he has before, that NBC Universal is mostly a cable company now, and turned part of his attention to defending CNBC’s Jim Cramer from Jon Stewart’s dissection of the business-news channel on “The Daily Show.”

Zucker said Stewart had been “incredibly unfair” by focusing on Cramer’s bad stock calls, which completely misses the point of what Stewart and his crack research staff exposed — not just a few “bad calls,” but a general tone of blustery worship toward Wall Street that prompted even conservative columnist George Will to wryly muse, “Don’t take financial advice from people who are shouting.”

To be fair, NBC has enjoyed considerable success in cable, but after the last few weeks — including the public-relations demolition of CNBC, MSNBC’s conspicuous silence on the matter, the risible name change of Sci Fi Channel to Syfy, and NBC’s disappointing (if predictable) ratings for the dramatic gamble “Kings” — the company certainly hasn’t had much to shout about. Unless, perhaps, you’re seeing the world through Zucker-vision.

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