Exit interview: Charlie Rose grilled NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker about Leno and Conan one last time

Jeffzucker Jeff Zucker sat back down at the table with Charlie Rose last night for his "exit interview" as CEO of NBC Universal.

Rose grilled him for much of the 40 minutes (link to video here), asking him again and again about how he failed with NBC Entertainment, and even though Zucker has described his decisions about Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien with Zucker before, they went through it all again. Why??? That's not me asking. That was Rose.

There's some initial discussion about the transition for Comcast to take over NBC Universal and the future of media, Zucker's start in news as a producer on Today, and then after some talk about the difference between being a news guy vs. an entertainment guy — and whether New York City and Hollywood are on the same page, Rose gets back to Jay vs. Conan. From the transcript:

CHARLIE ROSE:  Here is what is interesting about Bill Carter’s book,
though, is that you had, speaking of gut, you had a feeling that it was not
going to work at 11:30 for Conan according to Bill Carter and reflected
that.  And when you saw it on the air, it confirmed your feeling.  And when
you saw the bookings, it doubled your anxiety.
JEFF ZUCKER:  Look, look.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Look, what, is this what --
JEFF ZUCKER:  You know, I think, I think that -- I think Conan is
incredibly talented.  I really do.  I think that in the end everybody has
probably ended up where they should be.  It turns out Jay is a broader,
delivers a broader audience, and I think Conan delivers a very targeted
audience that wasn’t what we needed at 11:30 on NBC.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Looking at it now, you don’t think that Conan really
was the right profile, forgetting Jay, for 11:30 on NBC.
JEFF ZUCKER:  I think it turns out he was more narrow than we needed.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Narrow in what means?
JEFF ZUCKER:  In terms of his appeal to a broader audience.
CHARLIE ROSE:  Narrow in what he did, the nature of his comedy?
JEFF ZUCKER:  All of the above, all of that.  And look, he’s
incredibly talented.  And I think he’s actually reaching a perfect audience
where he is.  But at NBC at 11:30 you need to be, you need to reach more
than just men 18 to 34.  And you need to reach as many people as possible.
And I think, you know, in hindsight that is something that we realized
after the fact.

"So we're off that topic now?" Zucker joked a little while later.

Zucker later acknowledged that knowing Conan for 30 years — going back to their days as fellow Harvard undergrads — makes him regret that their friendship is not what it once was. Zucker also tells Rose that several years ago, he tried to lure Jon Stewart away from Comedy Central and strip his version of The Daily Show five nights a week at 8 p.m. (or even 7 p.m.)!

By the way, when you look away from the screen, a realization hits that Zucker sounds more than a little bit like Bob Costas. Wonder if he has ever done voiceover pretending to be Costas. Conspiracy theory?

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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2 thoughts on “Exit interview: Charlie Rose grilled NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker about Leno and Conan one last time

  1. Hollywood doesn’t care how good looking, talented and funny you are, they only care about how popular you are.
    Conan should have never gotten the gig in the first place.
    I’m guessing many in Leno’s camp got paid off for Conan’s campaign to get the show.
    Leno is a tightwad and it would easy to turn others against him.

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