In anticipated move, NBC News leader quits

Shapiro considered ill-suited for the job

September 07, 2005|By Matea Gold | Matea Gold,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK - NBC News President Neal Shapiro announced yesterday that he is leaving his post Friday, a long-anticipated move that comes after many in the news division concluded he was ill-suited for the job despite the continued strength of its programs.

In a memo distributed to NBC employees, Shapiro said he was stepping down to pursue "a new challenge," although he added, "I don't know what's next."

In the memo, the news president said he decided to resign because he began wondering "if I would find the next few years as personally fulfilling as the first four I have spent as the president of NBC News."

"I also found myself missing the opportunity for the kind of creativity that I've had in previous jobs," added Shapiro, who previously produced primetime magazine programs at ABC and NBC.

Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, thanked Shapiro for his "tremendous leadership."

"Neal has been a steady hand in changing times, and our continued success through it all is a testament to his great leadership," Zucker wrote in an e-mail to employees.

A spokeswoman for NBC News said that neither Shapiro nor Zucker would be available for interviews.

Although Shapiro had been planning his departure for several months, NBC Universal officials have not chosen his replacement. Zucker said that he had undertaken a "wide-ranging search" for Shapiro's successor. In the meantime, Steve Capus - who was recently promoted from executive producer of NBC Nightly News to vice president of the news division - will serve as acting president.

Shapiro's resignation comes in spite of NBC's successful record on several fronts. The morning and evening news programs have strong leads over their competition at ABC and CBS, and anchor Tom Brokaw's handoff to successor Brian Williams in December was widely praised for its smoothness.

Despite that, there has been a growing sentiment within NBC that Shapiro was the wrong person to lead the news division. After eight years producing Dateline, he had trouble adjusting to the high-profile, fast-paced demands of a management post, according to network sources familiar with the news division. Known for his reserve and a deliberative manner, the news president had difficulty measuring up to the effusive personality of his predecessor, Andrew Lack, who now runs Sony BMG.

Discontent with his low-key style worsened when ABC's Good Morning America made significant gains on NBC's Today last spring. Alarmed NBC Universal officials shook up the management of the morning program. Shortly afterward, Shapiro approached Zucker about leaving his post.

It's unlikely his departure will have a substantial effect on the news division, because other executives had begun assuming broader roles in the last few months.

Shapiro was on vacation last week when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, leaving Capus to direct NBC's coverage of the devastation. With Williams reporting for much of the week from New Orleans, the network enjoyed a substantial boost in viewership.

In his memo to employees, Shapiro detailed a series of accomplishments under his watch, praising the news division's coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks, last year's presidential election, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the recent hurricane.

"It's important to me that my departure not be used in any way to diminish the accomplishments of this news division, whose record is the envy of the industry," he wrote, adding: "We never missed a beat and no matter what pressures we faced, our commitment to truth and integrity never wavered. That is a tribute to all of you."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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