Former NBC boss Zucker addresses Trump/Bush remarks

Donald Trump was Issue No. 1 during a Harvard University forum with Jeff Zucker, who once oversaw NBC's Today in its heyday before rising up the ranks to head up the entertainment and TV divisions and eventually, NBC Universal itself. He left to run CNN's news operations in 2013.

"I have had a unique relationship with Donald Trump," Zucker told moderator and Washington Post journalist Lois Romano at the event, held Friday at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. "I'm also the one who put him and The Apprentice on the air at NBC. I've known who he is and what he is for a long time."

But he said the 2005 Access Hollywood tape that was leaked last Friday was news to him, even though he was running NBC's Entertainment, News & Cable Group at the time it was recorded. Ditto for all the allegations of sexual assault that have followed over the last week. "What is out there now, I am unaware of any of that," Zucker said. "I never heard any of that. I knew him as somebody who loved to brag about his ratings, loved the spotlight and knew how to draw attention to his programming."

Even as NBC and Billy Bush were said to be negotiating the terms of his exit Friday, the veteran TV executive remained unsure as to whether the newest member of theToday lineup, who was suspended on Oct. 9, should be let go over his sexually graphic 2005 conversation with Trump about then Access Hollywood co-host Nancy O'Dell and Days of Our Lives star Arianne Zucker.

But Zucker was certain that he would not have sat on the tape for a week while lawyers vetted it, as current NBC News executives did before it was leaked to theWashington Post last week. "If CNN had come into the same information, I see no reason why we wouldn't have published it as soon as we verified it," he said, adding that his gut instinct "would have been to publish that story and put it on the air as soon as we came into contact with it."

The Post published the story within five hours of receiving the footage.

He also looked back on his 2003 decision to Trump's reality-competition show The Apprentice, which then red-hot producer Mark Burnett had pitched as "Survivor in a different jungle."

As the lone New Yorker among the NBC entertainment executives in Los Angeles at the time, "I understood what a publicity magnet Donald Trump was," he recalled. "So my thinking was I wanted to buy The Apprentice, because if nothing else, it would generate a tremendous amount of publicity. If you came out of New York, especially in that era, you knew that he was on the front page of the tabloids all the time, he generated a disproportionate amount of attention, and I thought that would be good for a new show."

After the show became a success in its first season, Zucker says Trump approached him and demanded a Friends-sized pay raise: $1 million per episode.

"Donald you're not going to get a million (an) episode," Zucker told his new reality star. "He said, 'No, I mean all six members.'"

Trump turned down his counter offer of $600,000, only to tell his lawyer to accept the following day.


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