Comcast makes room at top for Zucker?

PHILADELPHIA. Inside television circles, NBC’s CEO Jeff Zucker is a pinata — beaten by critics who blame him for a steep downfall of the network of Seinfeld and ER and Johnny Carson.

So let the head scratching begin following a report yesterday by Reuters that said Zucker would be retained by Philadelphia-based Comcast when it closes on a deal to purchase NBC Universal from General Electric. The reported $30 billion deal is entering a “critical” stage, sources told Reuters yesterday.

A Comcast corporate spokeswoman would not comment on the deal — which has remained unofficial for more than a month — or yesterday’s news that Zucker would oversee the new conglomerate.

The country’s largest cable provider would pony up as much as $6 billion in cash and use its cable television programming as collateral to GE, according to stories since the deal was first reported Oct. 2.

As part of the longterm deal between Comcast and GE, which has been trying to unload most of its entertainment portfolio to go back to concentrating on its industrial core interests, Comcast would also likely have the option of buying out GE after several years, reports said.

Zucker has come under new heat from television critics for his 10 p.m. experiment with Jay Leno, whose new, earlier show has gotten dismal ratings.