NBC chief Jeff Zucker has dismissed criticism that the wrangling over Jay Leno's imminent return to The Tonight Show and the forced departure of Conan O'Brien from the time period have left Leno damaged goods -- unlikely to attract younger viewers again. In an interview with Saturday's New York Times , Zucker predicted that the entire controversy would soon blow over. "We live in a society today that loves a soap opera," Zucker said. "Three months ago it was David Letterman. Six weeks ago it was Tiger Woods's problems. Today it's NBC's problems." He insisted that he himself was being targeted by critics for his willingness to make a daring move in primetime. "I think part of why there's been such a visceral reaction to this is we've talked about change and taking risks, and that's something I've always been associated with," Zucker said. "And not being afraid to take chances." Critics have suggested, however, that, to the contrary, Zucker's moves were all about minimizing risk by curtailing programming costs to the point that the network would make money even with low-rated shows. In any case, Zucker acknowledged, "At the end of the day Jay at 10 o'clock didn't work ... and I take responsibility for that." But Fred Silverman, the only broadcasting executive ever to oversee programming at CBS, ABC, and NBC, told the Times that the entire affair was "a corporate embarrassment" unprecedented in broadcasting. "I've never seen anything like it," he said. And Robert Wright, the former CEO of NBC Universal, added, "I'm very disappointed that they are losing Conan, who is very talented. To get squeezed out like that is very tough. They could have done it another way."