(born April 9
) is an American television
executive, and President & CEO
of NBC Universal
. He is a 5-time Emmy Award
winner known for his aggressive promotion of his network's programs. In 1996, he married Caryn Stephanie Nathanson Zucker, then a supervisor for Saturday Night Live
with whom he has four children.
Zucker was born near Miami, in Homestead, Florida
. His father was a cardiologist, and his mother, Arlene, was a school teacher. He has a younger sister, Pam.
He was captain of the North Miami Senior High School tennis team, editor of the school paper, and a teenage freelance reporter ("stringer") for The Miami Herald. The Zucker also served as president of his sophomore, junior, and senior classes, running on the slogan: "The little man with the big ideas." Before college, he took part in Northwestern University's National High School Institute program for journalism.
He went on to Harvard, serving as President of the school newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, during his senior year, surprising many who thought the post would go to Michael Hirschorn. As President of the Crimson, Zucker encouraged the decades-old rivalry with the Harvard Lampoon, headed by future NBC colleague Conan O'Brien. (The Crimson's editors now joke that since Zucker is O'Brien's boss, those who want to get ahead in life should choose to join the Crimson over the Lampoon). He graduated in 1986 with a B.A. in American History.
When he was not admitted to Harvard Law School
, he was hired by NBC
to research material for its coverage of the 1988 Olympics
in Seoul, South Korea
, where he worked for host Bob Costas
Field producer & executive producer of The Today Show
In 1989, he was a field producer
for The Today Show,
and at 26 he became its executive producer
He introduced the program's trademark outdoor rock concert
series, and was in charge as Today moved to the "window on the world" Studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza
in 1994. Under his leadership, Today
was the nation’s most-watched morning news program, with viewership during the 2000-01 season reaching the highest point in the show’s history.
President of NBC Entertainment
In 2000, he was named NBC Entertainment's president.
During that time he oversaw NBC's entire entertainment schedule. He kept the network ahead of the pack by airing the gross out
show Fear Factor
, negotiating for the cast of the hit series Friends
to take the series up to a tenth season, and signing Donald Trump
for the reality show The Apprentice
. The Zucker era produced a spike in operating earnings for NBC, from $532 million the year he took over to $870 million in 2003.
Under Zucker's leadership, NBC was the top-rated network among the key adults 18-49 demographic for 4 consecutive seasons, during three of which NBC led key demographics in every major daypart, a feat no other network has ever achieved. Zucker also put his mark on the network with Las Vegas, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Scrubs. He originated the idea of airing "Supersized" (longer than the standard 30 minute slot) episodes of NBC's comedies and aggressively programming in the summer months as cable networks began to draw away viewers with original programming from the network's rerun-filled summer slate. Also on Zucker's watch, Bravo changed their programming direction towards reality television, seeing much growth with that strategy, while the newly acquired Spanish network Telemundo was positioned to be more competitive with leading network Univision.
President of NBC Entertainment's News & Cable Group
In December 2003
, he was promoted to president of NBC's Entertainment, News & Cable Group as well.
President of NBC Television Group
Following the merger with French media empire Vivendi Universal
, he was promoted to president of its Television Group in May 2004. Zucker's responsibilities, which already included NBC's cable channels, were expanded to include TV production as well as the USA Network, Sci-Fi, and Trio cable channels
. During Zucker's tenure, NBC slid from first place to fourth place in the ratings. Shows that Zucker championed such as Father of the Pride
and the Friends
spinoff Joey (TV series)
were considered failures.
Chief Executive Officer of NBC
On December 15
, Zucker was again promoted by NBC, to Chief Executive Officer of NBC Universal Television Group behind Robert Charles Wright
, vice chairman of General Electric
and chairman & CEO of NBC Universal.
Zucker was responsible for all programming across the company’s television properties, including network, news, cable, and Sports and Olympics. His responsibilities also include the company’s studio operations and global distribution efforts. Zucker reported to Bob Wright until 2007.
President & CEO of NBC Universal
Zucker was promoted on February 6, 2007, to the position of president & CEO of NBC Universal, replacing Bob Wright, who held the position at NBC Universal, and before that, at NBC, for 21 years.
Zucker was diagnosed at age 31 with colon cancer
, worked through two bouts of it, and had a large part of his colon
removed, then endured more than a year of chemotherapy
. He scheduled his chemo treatments for Friday afternoons, so he could be back at the office on Mondays.
Zucker's cancer is in remission
, but he still thinks about its impact. "It put my life into perspective," he says. "I want to win and win honorably. But heck, it's only television."