CNN falls into MSNBC’s trap with Jeff Zucker’s presidency

One of my personality ticks is that I sometimes pay too much attention to what goes on behind the scenes in movies and television. To me, it makes sense because it helps me anticipate what the final product will be in upcoming attractions.

I first became aware of the name Jeff Zucker back in 2004 when he was president of NBC entertainment and his decision making had become so bad that Saturday Night Live cast member Jimmy Fallon starred in several skits ridiculing Zucker's broken methodology in television programming. You know someone stinks when a comedy show from one's own network is going out of its way to ridicule someone behind the scenes by name.

Despite being one of the Big Three networks, NBC sank to fourth place for the first time in history under Zucker's watch.  His programming style shied away from traditional television and embraced reality TV with a vengeance, “Fear Factor” easily being one of his greatest offenses. The only good thing NBC had going for it was "The Apprentice" and that had more to do with Donald Trump than Jeff Zucker.

As he made his way up NBC's ladder to president and CEO, he began committing worse offenses.  It was his bright idea to move Jay Leno into prime time and that failure sparked the feud between Leno and Conan O'Brien for the late night time slot.

He then began to reprogram their cable news arm, MSNBC.  He began stacking up their editorial side as counter-programming to Fox News.  A fool's errand, as Pew Research shows that MSNBC is now more biased than Fox News, yet still has lower ratings according to Nielson Research.

The bad publicity and worse ratings forced Zucker out when Comcast bought majority stakes in NBC’s parent company, General Electric.  It says a lot when a company is willing to pay you tens of millions of dollars just to get rid of you.

So as you can imagine at this point I was more than horrified when I learned last week that CNN was seriously considering bringing Jeff Zucker in as its new president.  The deal has been finalized for him to start work in January.

I like CNN doing things straight down the political middle. After seeing what Zucker did to MSNBC, I fear he will try his failed counter-programming experiment again. Or worse, try to give it a cheap infotainment/reality TV spin.  Part of me is afraid he'll change “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” to “The Situation Room with Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino.”

I am hoping that this management change will be an innocuous one.  If not, then all I have left is C-SPAN.


Reach the columnist at colton.gavin@asu.eduor follow him at @coltongavin.


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