Phil Kent, the chairman and chief executive of CNN parent company Turner Broadcasting System, today announced that Zucker will join the global news giant in January 2013.
He will assume responsibility for executive oversight of a portfolio of 23 branded news and information businesses that includes CNN/US, CNN International, CNN.com and HLN, that reaches more than 2 billion people in around 200 countries
Zucker, who will report to Kent in the new role and be based in New York, started his 25-year career with NBC as a researcher for NBC Sports, working on coverage of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.
He served eight years as executive producer of morning show Today from 1992, and was later promoted to president of NBC Entertainment; News & Cable group and president; and chief executive of the NBC Universal Television Group.
But after becoming president and chief executive of NBC Universal in 2007, succeeding Bob Wright, who had held the position for 21 years, Zucker was hit with criticism over his management of the network.
His tenure was marred by a conflict over the rescheduling of the Tonight Show, along with a slump in the ratings that bumped NBC down to last-place status in US primetime.
He left NBC Universal in 2010 after Comcast completed its 51% acquisition of the company.
But Kent said that Zucker has "unmatched" experience as a news executive, particularly on the Today show.
"He built and sustained the number-one brand in morning news, and under his watch NBC's signature news programming set a standard for quality and professionalism," he said.
"As a programmer, a brand-builder and a leader, he will bring energy and new thinking to CNN. I couldn't be happier to welcome him or more excited about what he'll accomplish here."
Zucker said that he was "thrilled" to join the distinguished team of journalists at CNN, and praised the global broadcaster's "unparalleled" reach and scale.
"Outside of my family and the Miami Dolphins, there is nothing I am as passionate about as journalism. I spent the most rewarding years of my career as a journalist, and it's where I look forward to spending many more," he said.
"I am grateful to Phil Kent for this opportunity, and I'm excited to return to daily newsgathering and compelling storytelling in a place that values those above all else."
Zucker is currently an executive in residence at Columbia Business School and executive producer of the syndicated talk show Katie, hosted by former Today host Katie Couric.