Ed Scanlon Remembered: NBC’s ‘Fixer’ Exerted Influence Behind the Scenes for Decades

Edward L. Scanlon was the ultimate insider.

The long-serving NBC executive was a hugely influential player in the life of the network during the decades when it was owned by RCA and later General Electric. Scanlon was involved in everything from corporate recruiting and personnel vetting to labor negotiations to high-level M&A activity during his 44 years with RCA, Hertz and NBC. He was a close confidant of GE chairman Jack Welch. But Scanlon never courted the spotlight, preferring to stay behind the scenes. In 2001, as Scanlon prepared to retire from NBC, the New York Times published a rare profile that described him as “NBC’s Negotiator and Fixer.”

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Here, veteran media consultant and corporate recruiter Stuart Sucherman pays tribute to his longtime friend and colleague. Scanlon died March 17 in Naples, Florida, one day before his 90th birthday.

The role that Ed played at NBC for 30 years is hard to define. He operated behind the scenes, quietly and proficiently. Although his title was Head of Human Resources, Ed essentially ran the everyday operations at NBC. He negotiated every major contract, not only with key executives, but also with top talent such as Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw, Matt Lauer and Tim Russert. He played a major role in solving every major organizational issue. He was essential in negotiating and resolving all major labor negotiations.

Ed was a master at corporate politics and left many of us with pieces of memorable advice such as: “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” Mark Hoffman, chairman and CEO of CNBC from 2005 to 2022, remembers him with admiration: “Ed was a marvel, playing three-dimensional chess, while everyone else in television was playing checkers. Priest-like in his approach, he wielded tremendous influence, and was involved in every material decision leaving few fingerprints and requiring no credit.”

Rick Cotton, general counsel for NBC and later NBCUniversal for 25 years, reflected: “Ed was a once in a lifetime business executive. clubhouse politician and financial analyst with razor sharp business acumen, a frighteningly accurate judge of people, a student of big organizational behavior, all coupled with unmatched decency and integrity. Every conversation with Ed left you better off, even if you did not figure it out until the next day what he was telling you. He was almost always right.”

Ed’s influence extended way beyond his title. He was a mentor, confidant and friend within the NBC family helping so many people, young and old, navigate through their careers.

Jeff Zucker, former president and CEO of NBCUniversal from 2007-2011 and former president of CNN, was among them.

“No one did more for my professional life than Ed Scanlon. It was his singular idea to pluck me out of the Today show and send me to Burbank to run NBC Entertainment at the end of 2000,” Zucker says. “But I was only one of countless people whose lives he changed at NBC in those days. He was always the quiet, generous, kind wizard behind the curtain, the person who made everything happen at NBC, and very few people outside 30 Rock ever really knew it. He was truly the mastermind of so much of NBC’s incredible success in those days. And so many of us will forever be indebted to him. He was an incredible man.”

Scanlon played a role at NBC that is crucial for any modern media business. The truth of the matter is that there are many people who never look for public recognition, work behind the scenes and make organizations function rationally and efficiently. Ed was an outstanding and masterful example of the archetype.

For those of us who were fortunate to work with him, Ed’s legacy will endure through the countless lives he touched. We will remember him as a remarkable person and a true giant whose presence will be sorely missed.

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