Zucker to succeed Wright as NBC Universal chief

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NEW YORK -- NBC Universal is set to announce as early as Tuesday that TV group chief Jeff Zucker will succeed Bob Wright as CEO of the media giant.

NBC Uni executives were working during Super Bowl weekend to prepare for the formal handover at a news conference here Tuesday or Wednesday, sources said.

The CEO transition from Wright to Zucker has been in progress for months, so much so that it has been an open secret within NBC Uni and in industry circles.

The confirmation of Zucker's promotion is expected to be followed within a few weeks by news of a reorganization of some NBC Uni TV Group operations to fill the void of Zucker's departure as CEO of that unit. Among those expected to expand their turf in the post-Wright transition are key Zucker lieutenants Jeff Gaspin, who heads the fast-growing cable and digital content initiatives as president NBC Uni Cable Entertainment, digital content and cross-network strategy; Marc Graboff, who is Zucker's right hand in overseeing all of NBC Uni's West Coast business and administrative operations as president NBC Universal Television, West Coast; and programming chief Kevin Reilly, president NBC Entertainment.

Insiders said that Zucker and Wright were preparing for a speedy transition period, contrary to earlier speculation that Wright would remain in his post through the fall. NBC Uni representatives declined comment on the matter Sunday.

Industry sources said that General Electric chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt has played a strong hand in the timing of Zucker's ascent. One of the big question marks facing his new regime is GE's long-term intentions for the NBC Uni film, TV and theme park conglomerate cobbled together through GE's 2004 acquisition of most of Vivendi Universal's entertainment assets. The company that now encompasses Universal Studios, NBC, USA Network, Telemundo, Sci Fi Channel, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC and other assets is 80% controlled by GE and 20% by Vivendi.

In a well-received appearance in front of investors and analysts in December, Zucker signaled that NBC Uni's digital business is a key priority for him with the expectation that it would reach $1 billion in revenue by 2009 (HR 12/5).

Asked about a potential spinoff of NBC Uni, Zucker said that NBC Uni felt "very fortunate" to be part of GE and predicted it would be "a major piece" of GE's future.

Zucker is known as the career NBC wunderkind who built the "Today" morning show into a profit-generating machine in the 1990s. He was dispatched to Burbank in late 2000 to learn the entertainment side of the programming business as NBC Entertainment president.

Zucker assumed oversight of the bulk of NBC's TV operations after the 2004 merger with Universal.

Zucker first joined NBC in 1986 as a researcher for NBC Sports as it was preparing for coverage of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. He became a field producer for "Today" in 1989.

Wright has been CEO of NBC since September 1986, marking one of the longest tenures of any CEO in network television. He had a successful run as president of GE's financial services division before moving to the peacock shortly after GE acquired the network. Wright is credited with expanding NBC's operations in cable, television production, TV station ownership and in the international realm. In 2003, he spearheaded the transformative deal with Vivendi Universal, which put NBC in the same vertically integrated league as its Big Four network competitors for the first time by marrying the peacock's channel assets with the production infrastructure and program vault of a major studio.

Wright was promoted to the post of chairman and CEO of NBC in 2001 and named chairman and CEO of the combined NBC Universal in May 2004.

Wright also serves as vice chairman of GE. Zucker is not expected to have a GE title at the outset.

Cynthia Littleton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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