CNN Names Jeff Zucker President

Former NBC Universal Chief Is Known for Taking Risks

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CNN has officially named Jeff Zucker president of the cable news network, confirming speculation that heated up this week.

Jeff Zucker
Jeff Zucker Credit: NBC

The former head of NBC Universal will succeed Jim Walton, who said in July that he would step down from the network at the end of the year, telling his staff in an email that he needed to make way for "new thinking."

Mr. Zucker said he was eager to return to journalism from the entertainment business. "I spent the most rewarding years of my career as a journalist, and it's where I look forward to spending many more," he said in a statement.

Still, Mr. Zucker been away from the news business for a decade. And his arrival comes as CNN is looking for new ways to climb out of third place in the ratings behind rivals Fox News and MSNBC. While the originator of 24-hour news is still the leader during major news events, such as the recent election night, it lags in viewers during slow news cycles. During the second quarter, it fell to its lowest ratings since 1991.

CNN has been adamant about sticking to its roots of nonpartisan reporting, a contrast to competitors that have thrived on a mix of news and opinion. But the network is also looking to shake things up, saying over the summer that it is considering some "nonfiction original series." According to reports, CNN has also been exploring opportunities for a late-night talk show akin in some ways to "The View."

The problem is that the network has been unable to find personalities and programming to attract viewers on a consistent basis and when news is slow. At one point, it brought in former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, for example, only to cancel his show after nine months.

Mr. Zucker has been known for taking risks. At NBC Universal, he came up with stunts like "supersizing" sitcoms like "Friends" and "Will and Grace" beyond the 30-minute slot to compete with CBS hits like "Survivor" and "CSI."

At "Today," where he became executive producer at the ripe young age of 26, he is credited with creating the outdoor concert series, which was subsequently emulated by competitors.

But his reign at NBC Universal often draws criticism, with his tenure coinciding with the decline in prime-time ratings at the peacock channel. He left two years ago after Comcast bought a majority stake in the company. Only this season has the network begun to show some signs of revival.

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