Jeff Zucker — the man who introduced us to Matt Lauer, supersized Friends, and greenlit a reality show that served up cockroaches for lunch — is moving up. Again. On Feb. 6, the 41-year-old succeeded Bob Wright as president and CEO of NBC Universal. The former Today show exec producer and NBC Entertainment president talked to EW about the digital revolution, the future of 30 Rock, and Fear Factor’s odd legacy.
EW: Do you really think that TV viewing will evolve radically in the near future? Despite the advent of YouTube and iPods, there are still homes in the country without cable.
Jeff Zucker: The way people experience TV will change, but that doesn’t mean over-the-air broadcast TV is going to go away by any stretch. Programming will be available in many different ways and will force change. That’s what everybody is coming to grips with.
EW: Is there a cautionary tale behind making deals with überproducers like John Wells, Aaron Sorkin, and even David Crane — all of whom produced high-priced shows this year for you and CBS with so-so results?
JZ: We’ve learned there are no sure things, no matter where or who the show comes from.
EW: Current NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly was dogged by rumors last year that he might lose his job. Will that change given your new position?
JZ: The prime-time lineup has made real strides, and Kevin deserves credit for that. We’ve still got a long way to go, and I hope Kevin is a big part going forward.
EW: During and after your tenure as NBC Entertainment president (from 2000 to ‘03), you were criticized for the network’s failure to develop a new generation of hits.
JZ: I don’t look backward, and I’m not one to point fingers. All I’ve ever concerned myself with is doing the best possible job. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.
EW: You generated some headlines last year when you insinuated that NBC would only air cost-saving programming (like game shows and reality series) in the 8 p.m. hour. Is that still a goal?
JZ: No one can afford to air expensive dramas 22 hours a week. We’ve got to have the right mix, but in no way does [cheaper] mean lesser quality.
EW: What’s the prognosis for 30 Rock?
JZ: [The ratings] aren’t near where we want them to be, but Kevin has shown patience with shows that we believe in, like The Office. That’s one of the keys to our comeback.
EW: Now that it’s over, can you fess up to any regrets over serving cow testicles on Fear Factor?
JZ: Fear Factor was a great program. It was a huge ratings and financial success for this company, and it served its purpose for its time.