Jeff Zucker reveals his biggest regret


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Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, announced Friday he'll step down once the deal with Comcast is finalized. He spoke with THR business editor Georg Szalai about his decision.

The Hollywood Reporter:
What will you do next?

Zucker: First of all, I'm going to be here for another three or four months. I honestly don't know. I never thought about anything else for 24 years. I've only thought about NBC or Universal. But I have a lot of interests outside of this place. I'm really interested in sports, I'm really interested in politics. I'm really interested in business and journalism and news. I have a lot of interests.

THR:
You have signaled that politics is a possible future for you before ...

Zucker: I am interested in politics. I would think about running for office someday, but it's not imminent and it's not anything that I'm thinking about today.

THR: Does your NBC Universal contract have a noncompete clause that would prevent you from working at a competitor in news and some of the other fields you mentioned?

Zucker: I'm not going to talk about any aspects of my deal. I completely respect the question, but I am not going to talk, because once I open the door to one aspect, the door is open.

THR: What do you consider your biggest mistake during your tenure? And what's your proudest moment?

Zucker: I have been here for 24 1/2 years, and for the first 15 years, I was a producer. A lot of people forget that I spent all those years as a producer. You ask how I would like to be remembered: That I was creative and innovative, that I wasn't afraid to take a chance, that I believed in diversity, and that I created a culture of cooperation and collaboration that was unique in media. We revolutionized morning television. And we took the assets that Bob Wright put together and supercharged them into the best cable network group in media.

THR: What's your biggest regret?

Zucker: My biggest regret would be that we weren't able to turn around NBC Entertainment quickly, although I'm very encouraged about the seeds of the turnaround that have been planted. We have a long way to go. There is nothing certain about any of this. But we launched a number of new shows this week. None of our shows was dead on arrival. We have had a pretty good week. And I think the seeds of a turnaround are very much in place.

THR: Any regrets about the decision to bring in Ben Silverman as NBC Entertainment president in 2007?

Zucker:
I think it turns out Ben was probably better suited to being a producer than an executive.

THR:
How's your relationship with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien now?

Zucker:
I regret how publicly that played out. But that was just an example of not being afraid to take a chance. That one didn't work out. In 24 1/2 years, I made thousands and thousands of decisions here, and in the aggregate most of them worked.

THR: But there has long been negative press about you. How much of that have you read and how much does it bother you?

Zucker: I think a lot of people were disappointed about our ability to turn around NBC Entertainment, and that caused a lot of sniping, and that was incredibly unfortunate. If you take a step back and judge us based on our overall performance, it's been pretty spectacular, and I feel very good about it. I have a tremendous perspective on life. I have endured a lot of health issues in my life. Those were painful. What people want to say doesn't compare.

THR: How do you feel health-wise?

Zucker:
My health is great.

THR: Tell us about other likely management changes as a result of the Comcast deal. What about cable execs Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick?

Zucker: I am not going to say anything about that, because the speculation is just endless. I am not going to comment on that. That will be for Comcast to decide.

THR: Any regrets that you let Katie Couric slip away?

Zucker: You mean five years ago? That was Katie's decision [to move to CBS]. Back then she had a dream and she followed it. I am just proud that NBC News has continued to grow and today is stronger than ever.

THR: Disappointed to leave?

Zucker:
When I got here in August of 1986, I never could have imagined that I would be sitting in this seat 24 years later. I have been incredibly fortunate and incredibly lucky, and it's been a great job. I wasn't going to stay here all my life. I don't know this is how I expected it to end, but I'm completely at peace about it.

THR: Any gripes about Comcast?

Zucker:
Honestly, it has been a totally professional relationship. No issues at all.
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