So it’s December 1991. I’m 27 years old, and working as a reporter in the Montgomery bureau of The Birmingham News. One Monday morning, I pick up a New York Times—I think from the rack on South Decatur Street a couple blocks from my apartment. There’s a story in it about the new executive producer of the Today show, this prematurely balding 26-year-old named Jeff Zucker.
That alone was enough to induce a pang of resentment. But it was a quote from Bryant Gumbel—the Matt Lauer of his era, for those who don’t remember it—that really got to me:
“When people were surprised at how old he is I just reminded some of them how old they were when they got their first significant job,” he said. “Really good people tend to get good jobs when they’re young.”
I had an okay job at the time. I didn’t think it qualified as “significant.” Still, I had ambitions. So I decided then and there that I couldn’t stand Bryant Gumbel. I never forgot the article. And while I never really had anything against Zucker, I have nonetheless found the complete hash he’s made of things at NBC this week to be somehow perversely satisfying. Does this make me a bad person?
Oh, and Conan O’Brien has had reason to harbor a Zuckergrudge as well. From a 2004 BusinessWeek story:
Too small to pursue his fantasy of playing football for the Miami Dolphins, Zucker took to writing local sports stories for The Miami Herald. He continued his writing career as an undergraduate at Harvard University, where he covered sports for The Harvard Crimson. He later became president of the publication. It was at Harvard that Zucker first met Conan O’Brien, now an NBC late-night host, who worked for humor magazine the Harvard Lampoon. As a prank, O’Brien’s staff stole all the Crimson issues one day before they could be delivered. Zucker called the cops. “My first meeting with Jeff Zucker was in handcuffs, with a Cambridge police officer reading me my rights,” says O’Brien.
Update: Alex Pareene has a big-time Zuckergrudge.