Monday, June 17

Jeff Zucker’s Latest Bet: Prestige TV

Jeff Zucker is returning to the world of morning television. Sort of.

Mr. Zucker, the former CNN president and onetime executive producer of the “Today” show, is investing in Media Res, the independent Hollywood studio behind the hit prestige dramedy “The Morning Show” on Apple TV+.

It’s the latest gamble by Mr. Zucker in his effort to build a mini media empire for RedBird IMI, the venture company he founded in 2022. The deal, announced on Thursday, is also his first direct involvement in the world of scripted programming since he ran NBCUniversal’s entertainment arm in the early 2000s.

Neither side would disclose financial terms, but Mr. Zucker said in an interview that he planned to take a seat on the studio’s board and provide guidance and advice. The founder and chief executive of Media Res, Michael Ellenberg, will retain a majority ownership and continue to run the studio day to day.

RedBird IMI is a joint venture between RedBird Capital, a private equity firm, and a private investment fund run by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, an Emirati royal. Since Mr. Zucker’s ouster from CNN in 2022, the company has invested in a sports news platform, a documentary studio and Hidden Pigeon, a children’s entertainment company.

Redbird IMI is also attempting an audacious takeover of The Daily Telegraph, the influential London newspaper. That deal, which relies on roughly $1 billion in Emirati funding, remains under regulatory review in Britain, where Conservative politicians have raised concerns about foreign press ownership. The British government is expected to conclude its inquiry by the end of this month; Mr. Zucker declined to comment on The Telegraph, citing the ongoing review.

“The Morning Show,” the Media Res program starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, was Apple’s marquee offering when it launched its streaming TV service in 2019. Mr. Ellenberg, a former head of drama programming at HBO, secured an eye-popping $240 million commitment for two seasons of the show, which chronicles the behind-the-scenes intrigue at a broadcast network. Media Res also produced “Pachinko,” a Korean family epic, for Apple TV+ and a remake of Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage” for HBO, among other titles.

The “Morning Show” deal was a prime example of the free-spending “peak TV” era in Hollywood — one that has begun to fade.

“Even if it’s not at the level it’s been historically, there’s still going to be a desire for prestigious scripted programming,” Mr. Zucker said. “We think Media Res is in the sweet spot of where success will come in the next decade.”

Discussions about a deal began over a coffee at the Core Club, a Midtown Manhattan members’ club where Mr. Zucker regularly took meetings after his departure from CNN. “Jeff was just beginning this and said, ‘Wait for me — I have something really exciting I’m cooking,’” Mr. Ellenberg recalled. He said that Mr. Zucker’s investment would allow him to hire more people and expand the studio’s domestic and international production slate.

Don’t expect a cameo by Mr. Zucker on “The Morning Show,” though he said he was a fan. (The show is based on a book by Brian Stelter, a Zucker protégé at CNN.)

“I’ve seen all three seasons, every episode,” Mr. Zucker said. “Parts are absolutely realistic; the cutthroat nature of morning television is captured incredibly well. Other parts are an arch fantasy that can only be created in a writers’ room somewhere, and are fantastic.”