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Insights into Trump’s “fucking crazy” “Apprentice” negotiations with his arch-enemy Jeff Zucker – Monomaxos

“He is human scum.”

Perhaps you can’t get to the top without a few former colleagues thinking you’re human scum, and few rises in the media industry have been more dizzying than Zucker’s. After graduating from Harvard in 1986, Jeff Zucker started working at NBC, first as a researcher in the network’s sports department. He ended up as a producer at Todayand earned a reputation as a child prodigy; at age 26, when most people in the television business are just starting out, Zucker was executive producing what would become the most profitable morning show on television. Today was emerging from a period of instability after popular anchor Jane Pauley was controversially fired in favor of the young and less experienced Deborah Norville. Zucker’s tenure began in 1992 with Katie Couric, a political correspondent who had taken over the previous year as the new queen bee of morning television, sitting alongside regular Bryant Gumbel. With this team at his side Today dominated the ratings and defeated Good morning America.

Outside TodayZucker had battled colon cancer twice in his 30s, with the support of his wife, Caryn, whom he married in 1996. His ability to battle through it, take short breaks and go back to work during chemotherapy, cemented his reputation as an unstoppable manager at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. “I don’t think people would describe me as laid back, OK?” Zucker said. The Washington Post‘s Lloyd Grove in a 1998 profile. “I still want to win, but I don’t want to kill anyone or kill myself to get there.”

Like Trump, Zucker loved the thrill of spectacle – especially when he was the center of attention. The two men’s fates crossed again in the summer of 2016, when Trump’s improbable and turbulent presidential campaign undeniably boosted the ratings of CNN, which Zucker ran. When Zucker sat down with me for a diversity When Zucker wrote the cover story about his strategy for running a news network at a time of profound discord in American history, he was not unaware that he was instrumental in supporting the candidate who was already a destabilizing force in U.S. politics. But what Zucker concluded was that CNN had a chance to keep winning—even if democracy lost. “We have the largest share of the primetime audience in 15 years,” Zucker told me, sounding not unlike the man he had taught to fixate on ratings. “We have 34 percent of the primetime audience. We’re only two percentage points behind Fox. They’re at 36. And we have the largest lead over MSNBC in the primetime demo in 17 years.”

In the early days of his campaign, Trump often called his old boss for gossip and advice. This was before anyone took Trump seriously as a politician. The rest is well-known history: Trump’s constant rallies were broadcast live on cable television and became a kind of American wallpaper as he effortlessly cruised to the nomination and then to a surprise victory over Clinton in November 2016. Over time, Trump and Zucker’s intertwined professional lives mimicked the art they created together. Once inseparable in their shared pursuit of ratings, the two men – still seeking the highest possible number, be it viewership or electoral votes – squabbled like reality TV contestants when Trump began winning primaries. This was no surprise to any observer familiar with the genre’s tropes. The Zucker-Trump alliance worked for them when they both benefited from it. Using Trump as a free publicity machine and indulging his tendency to say whatever came to mind benefited Zucker and NBC. But in this new phase of his career, Zucker could no longer protect Trump.

CNN’s coverage inevitably got tougher as Trump got closer to the Republican nomination. And as the network began to fact-check his lies in real time, Trump felt betrayed by Zucker. “Trump spoke very positively about Jeff, up until the point where Jeff spoke negatively about him,” says Piers Morgan, who produced the first season of The Celebrity Apprentice in 2008 and took over Larry King’s place at CNN in 2011. “There’s no doubt that Zucker made Trump the TV superstar that he is, and it’s Trump’s fame that got him elected because people voted for a celebrity. I think Jeff knows he played a very big role. When he realized this could happen and he could be blamed for it, Jeff tried to make a screeching U-turn. But by then, as Dr. Frankenstein had discovered, the monster had already left the building.”

In 2007, Zucker was promoted again to president and CEO of NBC Universal, where he built his career as an executive. Zucker had two problems: NBC’s box office hits were getting thinner and it was time to freshen them up. The Tonight Showalthough incumbent host Jay Leno was not yet ready to leave. The manager tried to solve both problems simultaneously by converting the 10:00 p.m. time slot, usually reserved for adult dramas, into a nightly Leno talk show and putting Conan O’Brien in TonightProduction was cheap The Jay Leno Showbut an evening dose of his comedy when the audience expected Law & Order: Special Unit for Victims flopped, hurting O’Brien as viewers turned their sets away from NBC before the late-night hour. It also alienated Zucker from top Hollywood agents, who were angry because he tried to deny their actors payment based on scripts.

When Comcast acquired a majority stake in NBC in 2010, Zucker left NBC in disgrace with a huge severance package – reportedly $30 to $40 million. But he had an idea for redemption, to keep the magic of Today1990s, when Couric and Lauer came together as daytime talk show hosts. Lauer, still in his prime at Todaydidn’t take the bait. Couric, who had been cut off from her genuine gift of connecting with her audience as a news anchor at CBS, was struggling in the ratings and decided to accept Zucker’s offer. So she returned to daytime at ABC’s KatieDebut in autumn 2012.

While this was quite a step down for Couric, after her takeover as the first female anchor of a network evening newscast had given way to bitter disappointment when she couldn’t align her personality with the culture of CBS News, it was a far more precipitous step down for Zucker, who had gone from running a network to producing a syndicated daytime show. But at least he had the support of a close friend: One of the first guests Zucker had for Katie was Donald Trump.

“Jeff Zucker said to me, ‘Could you do me a favor for Katie Couric’s opening show?'” Trump recalls. “‘Could you sit on the roof of a bus with her right in New York City?’ So I rode on the roof of a bus with Katie Couric in New York City. Do you remember her show? It wasn’t a success. Not great. But that was Jeff’s show, you know?”

Katie proved to be a costly ratings failure because Couric once again failed to find the balance between hard news and gentle lifestyle content that would fill her time with sugar at Today. At CBS, she was perceived, albeit unfairly, as not serious enough to tackle current affairs. Every afternoon, she beamed into the orbit of housewives and husbands, dishing out no credible celebrity tips on dishes and makeovers. The talk show’s dismal failure (which was canceled after two years) led to a rift between Couric and her longtime boss, Zucker, who left the program before it was over. And when Zucker jumped ship (or was fired, according to Couric’s 2021 memoir), Go there), he aggressively lobbied to take over the leadership of CNN, which was in the process of finding a new network president.

And then, Trump claims, he came to his aid. (CNN insiders deny that Trump had anything to do with Zucker’s hiring.) Trump is so convinced of this fact that he told me the same story on three separate occasions.

“I’ve been sitting in the Plaza Hotel for two and a half hours,” Trump says. “The head of CNN Turkey, a friend of mine, is being honored. I was sitting next to one of the heads of Time Warner. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m going to hire the new head of CNN next week.’ I said, ‘Do I know anyone?’ He gave me four names and the last one was Jeff Zucker. He didn’t stand a chance. I said, ‘What about Jeff Zucker?’ He said, ‘No, he didn’t do a good job at NBC.’ I said, ‘No, he did! He didn’t do a good job.’ The Today Show. He has The Apprentice.’”

The three times Trump tells me this story, the details are always clear and largely the same. And once, Trump admits he made a mistake. “And after an hour and a half, I convinced him to hire Jeff Zucker. What a stupid move that was?” Sensing we’ve gone way off topic, he clarifies that this story is still official. “You can use it if you want. I don’t care.” After dinner at the Plaza, Trump says, he called Zucker to inform him. “I said, ‘Jeff, congratulations. You’re going to be the new president of CNN.’ He said, ‘No way.’ He gave me the same names that the gentleman on the left had given me, who was a nice guy.”



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Meet the author behind the lifestyle inspiration! Antonio brings a unique perspective to the world of lifestyle, weaving together words that captivate and ideas that resonate. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for embracing the richness of everyday life, Antonio invites you on a journey to explore the art of living well.

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