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Zucker’s Return Engagement Includes More Than Just Couric

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Months after his ignominious departure from 30 Rock, former NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker has popped back onto the media stage like a Vegas magician, reappearing with a flash of light and a puff of smoke.  

After a brief quiet period in which he was reportedly working for the International Olympic Committee, the 46-year-old Zucker has suddenly become ubiquitous in media circles, circling back to his old power base—morning news—and lining up to produce a film based on a series of spy novels. And if that weren’t enough, Zucker is also said to be one of the key investors in Estée Lauder heir Aerin Lauder’s bid to launch a luxury lifestyle brand.

Naturally, the proposal that has tongues wagging is Zucker’s plan to get the old Today show gang back together again. On Sunday, Katie Couric confirmed that she’s been chatting with Zucker about kicking off her own syndicated talk show when her CBS Evening News contract expires in June. (60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley is rumored to be the top choice to replace Couric.)

While whispers about Couric’s post-prime-time future have proliferated—at one point CBS chief Les Moonves was said to be looking to move her to a full-time spot in the 60 Minutes rotation—the latest talk that she may be reunited with her former Today confrere Matt Lauer has been greeted in some circles like the promise of a Friends reunion special.

Morning news was where Zucker first made his mark, which included overseeing the Couric-Lauer team in its original pairing. He became the executive producer of the Today show in 1992, at the tender age of 26, and under his stewardship the show became a ratings and revenue powerhouse. By the time Zucker moved up the ladder to become president of NBC Entertainment (2000), Today was responsible for generating some $300 million in revenue.

While the three amigos could make a splash in syndication, the concept faces some significant obstacles. For one, Lauer’s contract doesn’t expire until the end of 2012. And by all accounts, NBC will tempt Lauer with a fat raise (at $16 million per year, he’s already the most well-compensated TV news figure in the business, edging Couric by $1 million). Plus any involvement of Zucker might close off participation by NBCU in a syndication deal, given he was all-too-recently fired there, in September 2010, after Comcast took control of the company.

On the Left Coast, Zucker is said to be tied to Universal Pictures’ upcoming adaptation of a series of novels by best-selling author David Silva. The studio has picked up the screen rights to Silva’s Gabriel Allon saga. The lead character is a former Mossad agent who in the novels made his bones by killing a half-dozen of the terrorists responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympic terror attack in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered.

Zucker’s support of the 40-year-old Aerin Lauder’s project was reported earlier this month by the New York Post. While details of his commitment were not disclosed, among Zucker’s fellow investors in the venture is Vogue editor Anna Wintour.