Zucker Out, Burke In As Comcast Deal Takes Shape

fromKCRW

When complete, the Comcast-NBC Universal merger, would give the nation's largest cable operator direct access to all the entertainment content produced by NBC Universal. Federal regualtors must still approve the merger. Longtime NBC executive Jeff Zucker is out and Comcast's Steve Burke is in as the CEO designate of NBC Universal.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The nation's largest cable company - Comcast - is close to sealing the deal for its purchase of NBC Universal. That would give Comcast control of TV channels like NBC and USA and Bravo and also the film studio Universal Pictures. Federal regulators must still approve this deal, but the new company is already taking shape. In fact, there's already been a huge leadership change. And we're going to talk about all this with Kim Masters, who's been following the story. She's in our studios at NPR West in Southern California.

Hi, Kim.

KIM MASTERS: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Surprising that this deal isn't quite done since they've already gotten rid of the head of NBC Universal.

MASTERS: Yes. On Friday, Jeff Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal and a guy who is not particularly beloved either in Hollywood or by the public at large who follows the media world, announced that he was out when this merger closes. And on Sunday they announced that Steve Burke, who is now the COO of Comcast, will be in.

INSKEEP: Let's remember who Jeff Zucker is here. He was first famous because he revamped "The Today Show" years ago and very famous in more recent years as well.

MASTERS: Yes. It's been downhill since then. He has presided over signal failure at NBC. You can really do a timeline of one problem after another. Let's start with the decision to program reality on Thursday nights at 9:00.

That had been a vaunted hour where sitcoms ruled - remember "Seinfeld," "Frasier." It was probably the most valuable piece of primetime real estate. He put on "The Apprentice." He put on reality. That hour never recovered the kind of ratings it used to have. And on his watch the Peacock network became a basement occupier.

INSKEEP: Even more famously, the moving around of Jay Leno's time.

MASTERS: That was Jeff Zucker's project. He decided that they couldn't program hours - this is the network that brought you "ER" - could no longer do that 10:00 p.m., no more scripted dramas. In goes Jay Leno in what we now know as a disastrous experiment. Conan now gone from NBC. And all around the consensus is debacle. So as you can imagine, Steve, the reaction in Hollywood to this news that he is finally leaving was not sad.

INSKEEP: Although let's be frank about this. He's sitting there trying to preserve a business that has been problematic, if not terminally ill, for decades now - network television - trying to preserve that business model. Do you think that the new owners, Comcast, if this merger goes through, have any better ideas of what to do?

MASTERS: Well, that will be one of the questions. You know, some people were fearful that they would just bag broadcasting altogether because they're a big cable company. NBC Universal also owns, as you pointed out earlier, Bravo, USA - the biggest one of the cable channels.

But as part of getting this deal approved - and that is technically still pending, although obviously they think it's going to happen - they have made it very clear they intend to support NBC.

Steve Burke, the new CEO, was a guy who grew up at ABC. His father, Dan Burke, was a huge figure in television at Capital Cities and ABC. People really hope that Comcast will support NBC. And you know, they point out that broadcast isn't dead.

CBS and FOX are doing pretty well with these little shows - "Glee," "American Idol." Heard of them? You know, those are - "American Idol" alone is a billion dollar enterprise. When you succeed in broadcast television, you succeed really big.

INSKEEP: Are networks still making profits at this point?

MASTERS: Yes, some of them are doing very, very well. So in Hollywood the view is, why was Jeff Zucker walking around bad-mouthing NBC and not programming it better and coming up with some hits, which can be done? Now, is it easy? No. Is the model going to last forever in the digital era? Probably not. But for now there's still some hits left in that bat.

INSKEEP: Kim Masters hosts THE BUSINESS on member station KCRW. And she is also editor-at-large for the Hollywood Reporter.

Kim, always a pleasure to talk with you.

MASTERS: Thank you, Steve.

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