Throwback Thursday: Jeff Zucker “Got Shot”? No, He Got Fired. So What Does This Portend for MSNBC?

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The fearless Nikki Finke, of Deadline Hollywood, states it plainly: Jeff Zucker got fired. Axed. Canned. Involuntary separation–whatever you want to call it.

That Zucker was a goner from NBC-U, once Comcast took ownership of the troubled network from General Electric, was widely reported, but until today, The Cable Gamer always assumed that Zucker and the Comcastians had arranged things such that Zucker would get the proverbial “decent interval.” But instead, Zucker seems to have stuck around too long—not taking the many hints he must have received from the incoming Comcast crew. But J Zuck obviously doesn’t have any self-awareness; of course he was not wanted, having masterminded (sic) the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien fiasco, having taken NBC from first to fourth in the ratings.

But for the most part, the liberal MSM bought the line that Zucker had quit of his volition. Here’s a screen grab, for example, of a credulous account from Bill Carter, legendary brown-noser at the New York Times:

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Take a look at that headline: “Announces Departure,” my foot! His departure was announced for him. But here’s another stooge-ish report from NPR that gets the Jon Klein story right (heck, how could anybody miss that one, since Klein himself said that he had been “shot”?) but falls for Zucker’s spin on his exit:

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This dopey headline reminds The Cable Gamer why we need not only multiple media outlets, but also multiple points of view. Everybody knows that Zucker is a liberal, so of course liberal outlets such as NPR are kissing his you-know-what. This multiple-point-of-view point applies to Fox, of course, but it also applies to fiercely independent journalists, such as Finke. As she explains, NBC had become a joke—”Nothing But Crap,” and yet Jeff Immelt, the worst CEO in GE history, never seemed to notice:

It has long been expected that, once NBCU switched out of GE’s control where Zucker was inexplicably protected by CEO Jeffrey Immelt, the savvy Comcast brass would recognize how badly the NBCU topper had “Zucked-up” his job. (I scooped how, during Zucker’s mishandling of the Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno Tonight Show situation, private emails went out from high-level executives at Comcast saying, “What a mess.”)

But General Electric, a company that used to prize only excellence, kept rewarding Zucker’s failures. Then again, Zucker was embarrassingly proud that he kept managing for margins, not programming for ratings. So NBC eventually stood for Nothing But Crap.

That’s pretty good straight stuff, but Finke has more:

There is no doubt that Zucker’s legacy in Hollywood will be as one of the most disliked executives ever to head a Big Media company. His rival moguls laughed at his humiliations. The agents and managers and lawyers treated him like a buffoon. Even his own NBC show 30 Rock and anointed late night comic Jay Leno made jokes at his expense every chance they got. And each time he made an error in judgment, which seemed like all the time, he never paid a price for his mistakes, which made “Zucked” and “Zuckered” part of the media lexicon. That’s also why Zucker earned the moniker, “Teflon Jeff”.

Zucker’s firing followed what I reported was a “charm offensive” he launched back in May. The NBCU chief tried to demonstrate he was a new and supposedly improved Zucker, a nicer Zucker, and not the thin-skinned humorless bully of a boss which the journalism and showbiz communities have come to know and dislike and ridicule. “He’s being so nice to everyone, so friendly, a more lovable guy,” one top TV agent described Zucker to me after Universal boss Ron Meyer’s Easter party, then added presciently, “It’s because he knows he’s out.”

Indeed, the consensus was that Zucker’s charm offensive was really a defensive maneuver. It included taking full and sole responsibility for NBC broadcast network’s recent years in the ratings cellar. And failing to fire programming chief Ben Silverman a year earlier (though the boss still defended hiring that putz in the first place). And believing he could “reinvent” pilot season by getting away with spending little on new show development last year (though he defends spending heavily on this year’s pilot season). And installing Conan as Jay’s successor in late night when Leno was #1 and then putting Leno in primetime (though he defends replacing O’Brien as host of The Tonight Show).

So goodbye, Jeff, and good riddance.

The Cable Gamer might add this: One of the few achievements—everything’s relative, of course, so Zucker’s “achievements” might be regarded as lesser failures—was the growth of MSNBC, which has now overtaken CNN, although of course MSNBC is nowhere near Fox. MSNBC has gained, of course, by going hard left, and as TCG has observed many times in the past, it’s likely that Immelt and GE saw the value of MSNBC as, in effect, a lobbying tool for GE in an Obama-fied Washington. That is, if GE wanted big things out of DC–and nothing was bigger than first, the bailout, which saved GE Capital, and thus GE, and second, the notorious “climate change” cap-and-trade legislation that would have enormously enriched GE—then what better way to pressure DC than to have a whole network, MSNBC, simultaneously ingratiating itself to the Obamans and also agitating for legislation? It was a bold plan on the part of Immelt and Zucker in 2009, but of course, it didn’t work—the American people came to their senses, realizing that idiotically costly cap-and-trade legislation was good only for the big corporations who made up the US Climate Action Partnership.

So once GE had pocketed its share of the bailout, and then, when it became clear that cap-and-trade was dead, GE lost interest in MSNBC and the rest of NBC-U. Now, looking ahead, it’s apparent that Comcast has no interest in either a bailout or cap-and-trade, and so there’s little reason for the cabler to want MSNBC to continue on its course; indeed, there’s much downside, as the GOP prepares to take power in Congress.

Thus Comcast is quite likely to rein in MSNBC, to keep it from being an outlet for the loony left. And if that means that Keith Olbermann quits in a huff, well, that’s probably what Comcast wants.

In which case, the last vestiges of Zucker’s legacy will be erased. That’s no fun for Jeff. But of course, it’s never fun to be fired.

Reposted from The Cable Game, 24 September 2010

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