Media Moguls Zucker And Klein Forced Out

Robert Siegel talks with NPR's David Folkenflik about leadership shake-ups at two major media organizations. Jeff Zucker, the chief executive at NBC, announced his resignation, and CNN president Jonathan Klein was fired.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The heads of two major television networks, Jeff Zucker of NBC and John Klein of CNN, have been fired. They faced different circumstances but both have struggled to bring back top ratings to their respective primetime lineups.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from New York to talk about this. And, David, first, what connects these two announcements other than the day that they were announced?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think the first thing you have to say is they were both driven by a pretty clear corporate logic. Don't forget that Comcast purchased the NBC Network, which actually is a family of networks including a bunch of cable channels. And they're not buying the corporation for Zucker to run it.

Most of the profits actually come from the cable channels, and Zucker did a pretty good job building a money-making machine with "The Today Show" and the NBC News part of the equation, but entertainment, the primetime lineup has been a real problem.

Zucker's big gamble, if you recall, was the Jay Leno disaster in primetime, and that's always going to be a blot on his record.

Similarly, if you look at Jon Klein, he brought some stability and leadership after what had been kind of a revolving-door policy for the leaders there, but there are also it has been a revolving door in primetime, and that's been a problem.

He said, look, we're making a stand here at CNN. We're not going to go to the left like MSNBC has or to the right like FOX News did with such success. We're going to put our money on journalism straight ahead.

And, you know, when there isn't real news, he hasn't been able to draw enough viewers. One funny thing about that is that, you know, earlier this year, they did name some new primetime anchors, and they haven't given him the chance to see those out.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. So what changes are we likely to expect at CNN or NBC?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's easier to talk a little bit about changes that might occur over at CNN. The executive in charge of Headline News is taking over. The CNN's chairman, Jim Walton, told reporters on a conference call this morning he keeps CNN on a path of reporting rather than strident opinion. But he's obviously open to changes.

They say they want to make it more entertaining, more engaging and to make sure CNN's various outlets on TV and online feature more of the same reporting to emphasize the brand.

SIEGEL: Also, David Westin of ABC News also is recently out. What does all this mean - this changing of the guard at so many network spots?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I guess one thing large and one more specific. First, I'd say there's just incredible volatility and financial challenges for the legacy media outlets.

And we probably shouldn't forget that CNN itself, the cable channel, was seen as an upstart at one time, a generation ago.

The second thing I'd say is that this really could allow new leaders, perhaps without as strong rooted ties in the ways things have been done in the past to get to what's been kind of the mythic Northwest Passage of TV news, that is an alliance between CNN and ABC that could enable the network, ABC, to save money in how it does its reporting and afford the cable channel a much larger audience for its much larger staff.

If you think of one of the things Zucker did well at NBC was that the news division flourished when he had the NBC News, you know, channel consolidate costs with MSNBC, its cable sister, and allowed it to take a tack in primetime to the political left.

SIEGEL: Okay, thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's David Folkenflik in New York.

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