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Jeff Zucker Has Endured Cancer, Hollywood, and Being TV’s Wunderkind. So Why Not Take on CNN?

Zucker is also under pressure to cut costs. This fall, for the first time in years, CNN is expected to announce more than 150 layoffs. Zucker recently told executives they would have to “do less with less.” “There is no silver bullet,” he tells me. “It’s not about a path to No. 1 here. What we talk about is making the network essential and better.”

How long he remains at the helm is another question. This summer, when Rupert Murdoch launched his bid to take over Time Warner, there was talk that a merger would result in CNN’s being sold — and that Zucker would be replaced by the choice of the new owner. When I ask Zucker about life after CNN, it strikes me that he’s clearly thought about it. “I’d like to run a professional football team,” he says. “I’d love to run the USTA, be the sports editor of the New York Times. Would I consider a run for political office? Yes.” At another point, he told me “it’s a reasonable assumption” to say this is his last job in television.

Zucker gives me 30 points a game and still trashes me 6-0. As we walk off the court, he’s drenched in sweat and limping, a result of two arthroscopic knee surgeries. He’d already been at it for two hours in a match against a friend who’s a former college player. “She beat me 6-love in the first set, then I beat her 6-4, 6-2,” he says. “I like being down 6-love and coming back. I like having to turn something around.”