NBC’s Jeff Zucker: “Leadership Is About Taking Chances”

NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker made an appearance last night on “Charlie Rose,” for a 30-minute interview that mainly focused on the company’s late night network TV debacle.

Opening the interview, Charlie Rose described NBC as “in shambles” five years after Zucker was promoted from executive producer at NBC News. Zucker took issue with that description:

“I think that’s a little unfair to the fantastic folks who work at NBC. The fact is, NBC Entertainment has had a rough run the last five years. There’s no question about it. We haven’t done well enough…And we have to do better. And we have to find bigger, broader, better shows. And the truth is, that really has defined NBC and NBC Universal and I think that’s what so unfortunate for the 30,000 employees who work at NBC Universal…the fact that our failure to do better at NBC Entertainment has unfortunately defined us.”

Zucker went on to say that while NBC Entertainment is only responsible for about five percent of NBC Universal’s bottom line, it is also responsible for about “95 percent of our perception.”

Still, although he admitted NBC Entertainment could have done better programming in recent years, Zucker said he had no regrets about the whole Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno situation. He explained that had NBC not offered O’Brien the chance to take over the “Tonight Show” in 2004, he would have left the network then. And the same holds true for Leno last year, when they developed the plan to move him to prime time.

Zucker even described the idea of moving Leno to a half-hour show at 11:35 p.m. as a way to help O’Brien boost his own ratings, clearly not agreeing with O’Brien’s belief that such a move would mean certain death for the “Tonight Show” franchise.

“Leadership is about taking chances and taking risks,” he told Rose. “And also leadership is about acknowledging when they don’t work.”

Admitting the half-hour Leno show was “not perfect for anyone,” Zucker said he also had hoped that O’Brien would agree. “Not everything is going to work,” he concluded. “If we don’t try to do things differently, if we don’t try to take chances, then we know what the results of the status quo will be. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t.”

Watch the whole interview here.

Previously: Jay Leno: NBC Fired Me Twice”