General Electric Co. this morning named Jeff Zucker president and chief executive of NBC Universal, giving the 41-year-old television executive the controls to its $16-billion-a-year entertainment operation.
The appointment had been expected. Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of GE, which owns NBC Universal, has been pushing to get his own team in place at the New York-based operation. Immelt has long been Zucker's most powerful supporters.
"Jeff Zucker is a terrific talent and the right person to guide NBC Universal on the next stage of its growth," Immelt says in a statement. "Jeff's 20-plus years with NBC give him deep knowledge of the company's strategy, people and culture. In the past few years, Jeff has shown that he is an energetic, focused leader who can rise to a challenge. His creative experience, expertise in news and broadcasting and intense passion for the business were immensely appealing to the board and to me during this succession process."
Zucker takes over immediately. He succeeds Bob Wright, who spent nearly 21 years building NBC Universal into a major media company.
"By any measure, Bob is one of the most successful media executives ever," Immelt says. "He transformed NBC from a broadcast network into a diversified global media company. He was always able to see what was coming next, whether it was cable, satellite, Hispanic broadcasting or digital media. Bob's strategic vision and execution kept NBC growing."
The 63-year-old Wright, one of the longest-serving CEOs in media history, will stay on as vice chairman of GE and help in the transition.
Zucker has been on the fast track ever since he skipped second grade.
The Harvard University graduate made a name for himself in 1992 as the youngest executive producer ever -- at age 26 -- for NBC's flagship morning show "Today." During the next eight years, Zucker pounded away until the show climbed into first place in the ratings. It remains atop the ratings and is NBC's most profitable program.
His next assignment -- four years in Burbank -- proved more difficult. Although he put such reality shows as "The Apprentice" and "Fear Factor" on air, Zucker could not find a breakout hit that would replace "Friends" and "Frasier." A few months after he returned to New York in 2004, NBC's prime-time fortunes came crashing down.
NBC plummeted from its long-time perch in first place to fourth, behind FOX, ABC and CBS. The network's revenue also took a dive. Critics of Zucker question whether he should have been promoted because the company's problem areas developed on his watch and within his areas of responsibility.
The change in management comes as Immelt looks to shake up GE's entertainment unit and compete more aggressively against digital powers such as Google Inc. and popular websites such as MySpace.