For the first time, a two-time colorectal cancer survivor will direct and shape daily broadcast news coverage from the U.S. on a global scale. It was announced last week that Jeff Zucker, age 47, will become the president of CNN Worldwide, after serving as executive producer of Katie Couric’s new talk show, Katie, and after heading up NBC Universal.
Beyond Zucker’s and Couric’s latest teaming, there’s a lesser known cultural history of how Zucker and Couric, former co-host of NBC’s Today show, worked as colleagues starting in the late 1990s to bring colorectal cancer coverage out of health story shadows and into mainstream media reports.
Most TV viewers are not aware that Zucker was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 31 (then again at 34), and that he scheduled chemo sessions on Fridays to minimize work absences. The world did hear about the surprising death in 1998 of Jay Monahan, Couric’s husband and an NBC News legal analyst: he died at age 42 from colon cancer. Thus began a remarkable public campaign.
By the early 2000s, Couric (with support from Zucker as the Today show’s executive producer), headed week-long series and regular coverage of colorectal cancer and screening each March—during National Colorectal Cancer Screening Awareness Month. In March 2000, determined to boost awareness of CRC and the fact that up to 90 percent of colorectal cancers are curable if caught early , Couric bravely volunteered to have her own colonoscopy performed live, during a Today show broadcast. (Her colon was pronounced healthy.)
Soon afterward, researchers at the University of Michigan studied colonoscopy rates among younger men and women. They reported an unprecedented rise in first-time colon screenings among both genders—which they dubbed “The Couric Effect.”
Now, nearly 13 years later, a subset of cancer survivor viewers of CNN (and readers of this blog) will be watching to see if any similar broadcasts will be planned on cable TV in months—and years—to come.