In perhaps the worst-kept secret in television since "Letterman dislikes Leno," Jeff Zucker, former head of NBCUniversal, has reportedly been picked to head up CNN in the wake of Jim Walton's departure at the end of the year. According to the L.A. Times, talks with Zucker have been heating up over the last few weeks, and an agreement could be place as early as the end of this week. CNN has not yet confirmed Zucker's appointment and declined to comment.
Zucker currently produces Katie Couric's syndicated talk show for CNN's sister company, ABC Television Distribution, so he would remain in-house.
Zucker spent most of his career as an NBC company man, beginning work as a field producer for Today and later ascending to executive producer during Couric's popular tenure on the show.
Walton announced his exit earlier this year. The network has suffered from precipitous ratings declines and has been unable to weather competition not merely from reigning cable news and opinion king Fox News, but from competition on the Web.
The network retains solid affiliate fees and a robust Internet presence, but there has been tension between hard-news execs like Walton and pressure from the top to evolve into a more entertainment-focused network. New series, including a show starring Travel alum and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, may help the network strike a balance, and the choice of Zucker to run the network seems to indicate a move toward the kind of entertainment-driven news content that made Today such a profit machine during his tenure.
Zucker's time as CEO of NBCUniversal was less auspicious—in particular, the appointment of Ben Silverman to head programming for NBC went poorly, as did the simultaneous decision to rearrange the network's late-night schedule—but his credentials as a daytime news programmer remain respectable, and CNN is clearly betting on him to give the once top-rated network a much-needed boost.