EXCLUSIVE, updated with more details: Jeff Zucker has finalized a deal with WarnerMedia over the former CNN chief’s sudden fall from grace last month.
Details of the confidential package are obviously being kept close to the vest, but sources tell us Zucker made the decision several weeks ago to accept what had been put on the table by his old bosses at the time of his cable news exit. What we do know is that, if WarnerMedia keeps its side of the deal, in the next week to 10 days Zucker will receive a one-time payment of around $10 million.
We are told that Zucker, 1uiet publicly since his departure from CNN, sees this as a chance to move on and pursue the next chapter of his career. In terms of moving on, as a part of the agreement with WarnerMedia, the one-time NBCUniversal head honcho has waived any future right or intention to pursue litigation against his old corporate overlords.
Hired by Zucker around the time of his abrupt February 2 CNN adieu, Hollywood heavyweight litigator Patricia Glaser of Glaser Weil quickly penned a chilly note to WarnerMedia warning them that CEO Jason Kilar’s characterization of how everything went down was inching close to becoming defamatory towards her client.
Represented by Craig Jacobson of Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren, Richman, Rush, Kaller & Gellman, LLP in the actual settlement with WarnerMedia, Zucker producer had been weighing a legal battle with the Kilar-run WarnerMedia. However, with waves of bad press over the weeks since his exit, that option looked less and less appealing. Also, as Zucker pal David Zaslav prepares for the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery in the coming weeks, there was always the risk of what legal discovery could unearth of the way the sausage was made at CNN during Zucker’s near decade-long tenure.
Neither Jacobson nor Glaser responded to requests for comment from Deadline. WarnerMedia declined to comment on the situation.
In the hours before his resignation was made public, it seems Zucker did sign a NDA with WarnerMedia that allowed him, with the company’s approval, to designate the reason for his exit. Zucker abruptly resigned from CNN on February 2, citing his failure to immediately disclose a relationship with a colleague, PR and marketing chief Allison Gollust.
With the relationship between the now both divorced Zucker and Gollust an open secret in media circles, his departure stunned a number of CNN anchors and correspondents, who confronted Kilar in staff meetings about the circumstances of his exit. Some of the on-air talent believed Zucker has fallen victim to cutthroat corporate politics for what they saw as a mere infraction. One CNN anchor, Alisyn Camerota, even said on air that Zucker’s departure “feels wrong.”
Kilar, though, defended the nature of Zucker’s departure, writing to staffers February 15 that after a third-party law firm’s investigation, “I strongly believe we have taken the right actions and the right decisions have been made.” The probe examined Chris Cuomo’s assistance to his brother, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as he faced sexual harassment allegations. The investigation also reportedly examined what some saw as extensive interactions of Zucker and Gollust with the Cuomos.
Gollust, who then also resigned, pushed back on Kilar’s statement, arguing that what transpired was an attempt to retaliate against her “and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks.” She and Zucker retained a crisis communications rep, who has denied that they were not forthcoming with the third-party investigation.
In aftermath of Gollust’s exit, she was paid $1 million by WarnerMedia as part of the schism, sources tell us.
Contemplating a legal move of his own in pursuit of an $18 million payout, the younger Cuomo has hired the imperturbable Bryan Freedman to represent him. The Freedman + Taitelman LLP founding partner was the attorney who scored hefty settlements from NBC for both Megyn Kelly and Gabrielle Union-Wade in their respective battles with the Comcast-owned outlet. As for the older Cuomo, word on the Hudson is the sharp-elbowed princeling who ran the Empire State from 2011 to 2021 is eyeing a comeback, or at least a payback, for those he sees as causing his own fall from grace.
As for CNN, with a troika of Zucker acolytes running things on an interim basis, Zaslav late last month named The Late Show with Stephen Colbert EP Chris Licht to run the cable network. Set to take up the role of chairman and CEO of CNN Global formally in May, Licht said he plans to “do a lot of listening” as he starts his new gig. “Together, we will double-down on what’s working well and quickly eliminate what’s not,” Licht told staffers in a February 28 memo.
Speculation focuses on whether Licht will shed aspects of Zucker’s legacy, like injecting the network with more opinion. Discovery shareholder John Malone told CNBC last year that CNN should “evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with.”
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