CNN has announced that outgoing president Jim Walton will be replaced by Jeff Zucker, 47, executive producer of NBC's Katie, hosted by Katie Couric, with whom Zucker worked with on the Today show. Zucker is the former executive producer of that program, and was the CEO of NBC Universal from 2007 to 2011. He will take the helm in January.
Despite those impressive credentials, his most interesting feat may have occurred while he was undergraduate at Harvard in the mid 1980s, when he got fellow student Conan O'Brien into a bit of trouble with the law. Well, Conan may have been asking for it.
Back then, Zucker was the president of the Harvard Crimson, while O'Brien wrote for the Harvard Lampoon, a humor magazine. Two years ago, Hollywood Reporter recalled the incident:
"Zucker fondly remembers the rivalry, especially the time when he 'caught the Lampoon red handed in the street' after members of the organization had attempted to steal the President's chair from The Crimson. He managed to persuade police officers to arrest O'Brien and his fellow Lampoon thieves, making them sit 'for like twelve hours' in a Cambridge jail."
Of course, it was Zucker who was responsible for the hiring — and arguably the resignation — of O'Brien from the Tonight Show. O'Brien was the host of the exalted show from June 2009 to January 2010.
Zucker began his career at NBC as a lowly sports researcher for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, and by 1992 he was executive producer of Today, at a time when it was the most watched morning show on television. He subsequently became the executive producer of the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. CNN is hoping Zucker can help turn the network around, as it faces increasingly stiff competition from Fox News and MSNBC.
Regarding the O'Brien-Leno flap in 2010, here's how Zucker explained the situation at the tail-end of the fiasco on CNBC: