Former CNN president Jonathan Klein began hearing tales about “whiz kid” Jeff Zucker in the late ‘80s. It was a family thing.
Zucker’s mother was a teacher at Miami’s New World School of the Arts. Klein’s father, former principal of New York’s famed LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts, was New World’s founding provost. The two became good friends.
At the time, Jonathan Klein discounted the Zucker stories as “the exaggerations of a Jewish mother,” he recalls. “I heard about this amazing kid and all his successes. When I finally met him, he turned out to be more amazing than even his publicist — his mother — had said.”
Zucker, 47, named last week as president of CNN Worldwide, will need plenty of “amazing” to turn things around at its foundering flagship network, CNN/U.S. But if anyone can do it, he can, according to Klein and numerous others.
“Jeff would live in a control room if he could,” says Klein (left), who’s launching another digital media company and has sold “a few” TV pilots.
“The staff is ecstatic to have a real news guy, a Hall of Famer in the news business, to run things,” Klein adds. “It really craves his brand of bold, dynamic leadership. He’s sure to bring a fresh perspective.”
According to several CNN employees – none of whom would speak for attribution – the beleaguered New York staff is practically counting the minutes until Zucker takes over next month. In a CNN first, he will be based out of New York instead of Atlanta – another plus, they say.
“I’m thrilled,” says a veteran on-air talent. “The place has obviously been drifting – no progress, no vision, no fixing of mistakes. It’s always great to be there for big breaking stories, but on a day-by-day basis, we’re getting slaughtered.”
A longtime CNN producer says the staff has been demoralized by a series of leaders with inadequate TV skills . “A lot of people in charge haven’t had the resume to do the job. They talk big, but they don’t have the capacity to deliver. It’s been mystifying how unqualified people have been hired, over and over again.