Jeff Zucker: Think Wild, Think Crazy

Jeff Zucker, the president of NBC television, talks about running a network at the ripe old age of 39.


[Ed note: In the wake of Zucker’s announcement that he’s leaving NBC, we thought we’d stroll down memory lane…]

Jeff Zucker

President, NBC Universal Television Group

Jeff Zucker was, famously, just 26 when he became executive producer of NBC’s Today show. Now, at the advanced age of 39, he runs the company formed last May by the merger of General Electric’s NBC operations with Vivendi Universal Entertainment. He spoke with Fast Company about the value that agents and lawyers bring to the biz, why being a little bit crazy helps, and the importance of giving thanks.


Achieving success when you are young is an added burden in some respects. There is always an expectation you will top yourself. That expectation is external, but also internal, especially in my case. Nobody needs to put pressure on me.

A lot of the day is spent putting out fires. People think this job is all glamour, but there are many long hours away from your family.

My least favorite part of the job is all the meetings.

I waste the most time on agents and lawyers.

The biggest surprise has been just how much content we actually produce. It’s more than people realize. There’s never time to watch it all. On a daily basis, we’re producing television shows that don’t air on our network [such as Karen Sisco on ABC]. We’re producing syndicated shows [Jerry Springer]. We’re producing content for radio and the Internet. Our cable reach is huge.

You can never thank people enough.


My biggest challenge is getting the new team to maximize our potential and combine together into one culture. We have a bunch of people with strong personalities who are extremely good at what they do. I want them to feel they are the best, and yet have us work together as a team.

My favorite television show? The Honeymooners. As Jackie Gleason said, he was the greatest. And there has never been a better sidekick than Art Carney.

My biggest disappointment is we still haven’t found the next Seinfeld.

In hiring I look for all the things that everybody else looks for: open-mindedness and diversity of thought, commitment, and passion. But then I also want people who have a slight crazy streak, too. I want them to be nuts in a positive way. I want them to be able to stretch and think big, to think wild and think crazy.

I encourage people to take risks and make mistakes. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.

A lot of this is just intuition and guts.


I’m envious of Brad Pitt. Not only is he married to Jennifer Aniston but he looks good in skirts [as in the movie Troy].

I’d love to be able to sing on a Broadway stage. The problem is, I’m tone deaf.

Five years from now, I’ll probably have even less hair than I do now.