A pair of Hollywood trade publications offered different accounts of the story at roughly the same time on Thursday evening. Variety first touted an “exclusive” that Burke would walk away in 2020 and would “likely” be replaced by NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment chairman Jeff Shell.
Variety reported that “Burke’s NBCUniversal contract formally expires in August 2020, but sources say he could depart earlier in the year.” Minutes later, rival publication The Hollywood Reporter published a report that Burke would exit in 2020 but “after the Olympics in August when his contract expires.” THR also reported that a different NBCUniversal executive, Mark Lazarus, could be considered to succeed Burke, with Shell being painted as the favorite.
NBCUniversal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, NBC News’ website published the Variety report, complete with the tidbit that NBCUniversal declined to comment.
NBC News did not immediately respond when asked if publishing a report about its parent company’s boss is confirmation of his departure is imminent. CNBC, also under the NBCUniversal umbrella, reported Burke’s looming exit, too, while also noting that “NBCUniversal” declined comment.
Insiders feel that Burke’s exit could mean trouble for NBC News chairman Andy Lack and his top deputy, Noah Oppenheim, who have been plagued by scandals and public relations debacles. Burke has stood by Lack and Oppenheim as the duo have been accused of spiking Ronan Farrow's award-winning reporting that helped launch the #MeToo movement.
In recent memory, NBC News has been accused of covering for alleged sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, turning a blind eye to former “Today” host Matt Lauer’s sexual misconduct, sitting on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women, and shutting down author Sil Lai Abrams’ rape and sexual assault claims, among other allegations.
Farrow reported in his book, “Catch and Kill,” that Burke had a relationship with Weinstein and was warned about NBC News’ culture issues long before the #MeToo movement, but NBC has denied the claims.
NBC has denied wrongdoing at every turn but various women's advocacy groups have repeatedly condemned the network. After the Weinstein and Lauer bombshells were reported in 2017, Lack and Oppenheim famously refused to hire an outside investigator to determine who knew about Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct and whether NBC executives looked the other way.
NBC relied on in-house general counsel Kim Harris despite widespread calls for an outside law firm to conduct the review. She declared that management was completely oblivious and frequent calls for a more thorough investigation have gone ignored by Burke.
Burke had a high-level post at NBCUniversal’s parent Comcast and Disney before landing the NBCUniversal CEO gig in 2011. He sits on the board of directors of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, leading to speculation that he could take on a prominent role at the company after departing NBCU.