Ever since the NBC Universal-Comcast merger was announced last year, the obnoxious Lauren Zalaznick has been lobbying for a bigger role within the combined company. And, in the process, she’s made a pest of herself from what I hear. The president of NBC Universal Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks oversees Bravo, Oxygen, and iVillage, and has indicated not very subtlely that a small addition to her current portfolio, such as Comcast’s Style Network, won’t cut it. She’s also threatening to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Sources tell Deadline that Zalaznick took meetings recently with Viacom president/CEO Philippe Dauman and top Viacom cable executives execs including Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music /Films /Logo Group. Though these meetings have been described to Deadline as only exploratory, Zalaznick is trying to make Comcast & NBCU believe she’s being eyed for Judy McGrath’s job as chairman/CEO of MTV Networks. Interesting that, last December, Zalaznick was so worried there’d be no upward mobility for her post-merger that she floated speculation she was in advanced talks to take Brian Graden’s job as MTV President of Entertainment running MTV and VH1. Didn’t happen.
The problem for Zalaznick is that her persistent maneuvering is hurting her, not helping her. Meanwhile, Bonnie Hammer is sitting pretty on NBCU’s golden egg, overseeing the company’s most lucrative assets: USA Networks, SyFy, and their in-house studio that produces most of the channels’ series. Zalaznick has tried to make everybody think of herself on the same level as Hammer, even to the point of leaking to the media about it. “She’s the girl who never got asked to the prom in high school, and now she’s trying to make everybody believe she’s Prom Queen,’ one agent disses her. The fact is that Comcast has been debating between two management structures for the combined company’s cable assets: one with them split between Bonnie Hammer and Zalaznick, and one entirely under Hammer. Meanwhile, everyone expects Comcast’s Ted Harbert to move up and over in a very big job. But the intention for now is to keep Zalaznick in the fold and not be concerned if “she is feisty and she’ll be out the door if she is not happy,” as a source describes.
The upshot is that the publicity-hungry Zalaznick is just embarrassing herself by leaking like a sieve to the media to up her profile. As for McGrath, all indications are that her job is safe again for now. She had been rumored to be on her way out ever since her boss, Viacom CEO Tom Freston, was ousted in 2006. Yet she’s still there. McGrath is one of few holdovers from the early core group of MTV executives, joining MTV as a copywriter in the On-Air Promotions department in 1981, and working her way up to president. And now, after a rough patch, even big boss Dauman is boasting about Jersey Shore to Wall Street analysts as MTV has clawed its way back from the brink. As for Zalaznick, she’s been responsible for such trashy shows that would fit in swell with MTV’s swill.
I don’t understand how the woman who’s tops in women’s TV obviously hates women so much that her programming portrays them as grasping and greedy — that is when they’re not throwing physical punches on Oxygen’s Bad Girls, or verbal punches on Bravo’s The Real Housewives, or killing their families on Oxygen’s Snapped. But her act may be wearing thin, at last: ratings for Bravo’s most recent The Real Housewives of DC have been terrible. She has made Oxygen into a worse joke than its reality star Tori Spelling. She and mentor Jeff Zucker together lost Project Runway to Lifetime. And she has screwed up all attempts to make Zucker’s $600 million white elephant iVillage into a viable TV property. Her coining the gimmicky word “affluencer” to describe Bravo’s core audience (“Who doesn’t want to be that person with the cute boyfriend and the hot cellphone?” she told the NYT in 2008. “You want to influence people, and you want to have money. It’s like America.”) shows how morally bankrupt her thinking about TV and women is. I hope a special hell is reserved for female showbiz execs who degrade their own sex like this.
Another problem for Zalaznick is that she’s not well-liked inside the company except by the bosses she brown-nosed. Zucker’s affection now that he’s losing his job post-merger may be the kiss of death within NBCU for her. Jeff Gaspin also likes her, but then he and she worked together at VH1 years ago along with Magical Elves’ Jane Lipsitz. Outside NBCU, the agents gripe that she is terrible at returning phone calls, acts as if her “shit doesn’t stink”, and overall wields what little power she has with even less grace. Pissing off agents is bad TV biz.
Zalaznick is within the window now to negotiate a new NBCU contract. She may think that gives her leverage, but the insiders I spoke to think that just makes it easier for Comcast to oust her after the merger. I say: good riddance.
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