"Moving to a news or news and opinion operation would, I think, play to his strengths," said Edmonds. "And he's a youngish guy with lots of energy. So, why not?"
The 47 year-old married father of four has survived cancer twice -- an experience that, he has said, "prepared me for almost anything."
Thompson, of the Bleier Center, told CNN before Zucker's news conference that he expects "we're probably going to see some of the aesthetics of the primetime shows in the other 24-hour networks be applied to CNN" -- including more opinion talk. Thompson also expects more elements of the kind of entertainment programming that was part of the "Today" show mix, along with hard news.
While Zucker stressed his plans to stick to CNN's fundamentals, Kent -- who joined Zucker on the conference call -- added that the network is looking at expanding programming outside of traditional hard news. "We've had shows about sports, fashion, technology," Kent said. "And some of that is going to be revisited."
In October, as speculation about the possible hire was growing, Los Angeles Times writer Joe Flint argued that "while Zucker easily has the ability to pump new life into CNN, he is such a high-profile executive that his hiring could create more problems than it would solve."
Walton, who announced in July that he would depart at the end of the year, has presided over the company from its headquarters in Atlanta. Zucker will continue to live in New York.
Flint predicted that would mean Zucker spending "half his time on a corporate jet instead of being in the trenches with the team that so desperately needs a leader."
Flint also questioned whether Zucker would see CNN as a stepping stone to a higher position, and be focused on a "next land grab."
Kent said Thursday that Zucker's overseeing CNN from New York will be no obstacle at all, and noted that many CNN/U.S. programs originate from New York.
And Zucker said he looks forward to reporting to Kent.
Andrew Kirell, on the blog Mediaite, said in an October article that while Zucker's coming to CNN would likely stir controversy among his critics, his "failures" at NBC were "far more widely covered than his enormous success in leading NBC's cable assets -- a record which would be directly relevant to the CNN job. On the news side, he can be largely credited with guiding MSNBC out of the gutter and establishing it as an actual competitor to Fox and ultimately beating CNN."
Zucker will supervise the heads of CNN's various divisions, including CNN/U.S., HLN, CNN International and CNN.com.
His entry into the Time Warner corporate family is sure to create a stir for media watchers for another reason -- one that has nothing to do with TV news.
Conan O'Brien has a show on TBS, CNN's corporate cousin. Zucker famously evicted O'Brien from NBC's 11:35 p.m. slot after just seven months hosting the "Tonight Show."
While it could make for an awkward moment at Zucker's welcome party, the O'Brien saga -- which involved removing, then restoring, Jay Leno to the time slot -- also highlights what is at times one of Zucker's strengths: a willingness to think outside the box.
"I do think that taking a risk and trying something new is something that we should always be willing to do," he once told CNBC.
Zucker has a publicly avowed fan in Piers Morgan, who hosts a primetime CNN program. "I love Jeff Zucker. I wouldn't be here without him," Morgan recently told The Hollywood Reporter.
Morgan was under contract with NBC's "America's Got Talent" when he got the CNN offer.
"Everybody had said to him, 'Don't let him go,' and, 'Why do we want to share our talent with CNN?' And he said, 'I get it. This is your dream job, and I'm going to let you do it,'" Morgan said, adding that Zucker is "a very capable executive."
Zucker became executive producer of "Today" at the age of 26, in 1992.