What's the going price for driving down NBC's ratings? Between $30 and $45 million, it seems.
In January, the television network, which is owned by General Electric, paid late-night host Conan O'Brien
$32.5 million to leave the network after an ugly feud over "The Tonight Show" spot. Now the New York Post is reporting that NBC is prepared to pay even more to CEO Jeff Zucker
, whose three-year tenure at the top spot has been accompanied by tumbling
ratings, as part of a generous exit package.
Zucker's reported golden parachute is part of a larger deal -- Comcast's bid to take over a majority interest of the network from General Electric and co-owner Vivendi, which still needs federal approval. The deal is expected to close early next year. Meanwhile, GE says the reports about Zucker's exit package are untrue.
It was Zucker's idea to move Leno to an earlier time slot and insert O'Brien into "The Tonight Show." Meanwhile, he's failed to introduce shows into the prime-time lineup that can draw ratings the way former NBC hits such as "Seinfeld," "Friends," and "ER" once did. Even with the boost from this year's Winter Olympics coverage, NBC's prime-time ratings this season were down
4 percent from last year with the key 18-49 demographic. And NBC trails CBS, Fox and ABC in the ratings among all prime-time viewers.
Given such a track record, many wonder how Zucker could have survived as long as he did in the top spot, let alone stand to be rewarded for his failures with a fat send-off check.
"For years there has been a commonly held theory that Jeff Zucker has a video of GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt cavorting with a goat, and he has threatened to put it on the air," writes
comedian Andy Borowitz. "But I think this is a far-fetched theory, since Zucker has never put anything interesting on the air."