NEW YORK — In a shake-up at NBC News on Friday, Don Browne was named to the No. 2 slot in the division and Steve Friedman, a former "Today" show producer, was hired to be executive producer of "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw."
According to NBC sources, the two appointments by NBC News President Michael Gartner were intended in part to demonstrate that he is aggressively dealing with problems in the division as the network prepares for its annual affiliates meeting in Washington in June. Gartner can expect to meet criticism from the station managers over the precipitious drop in the "Today" show ratings since the departure of Jane Pauley and the fact that "Nightly News" has been alternating with the "CBS Evening News" for third place behind ABC's "World News Tonight."
Browne, who was promoted to the job of executive vice president of NBC News, is a former Miami bureau chief who had been elevated a year ago to executive news director at NBC, coordinating all of the news crews and assignments.
Friedman, who will succeed Bill Wheatley as executive producer, took the "Today" show from No. 2 to No. 1 in the ratings during his seven years in charge of the show. He left NBC in 1987 to become president of the East Coast office of GTG Entertainment, a highly publicized joint venture of Grant Tinker and the Gannett Co.
Friedman developed and produced the ill-fated version of Gannett's "USA Today" newspaper, which was panned by critics and taken off the air after 15 months. Friedman had departed even earlier.
In an interview with The Times, Friedman said that any changes in NBC's "Nightly News" would be consistent with the program.
"I'll have to sit down with Michael and Don Browne and Tom to talk about what we want to do, but whatever we do will be appropriate to the show. People who want to talk only about 'USA Today on TV' don't know what I did for many years on 'Today.' "
At a meeting with staffers Friday, Brokaw praised Wheatley's work as producer of the newscast for the last five years and said that it was a sad day at NBC that he was being replaced. At the same time, Brokaw said that Friedman's "instincts as a newsman" have been underestimated.
Brokaw and Friedman have been longtime associates since the early 1970s, when Brokaw was an anchorman and Friedman a news writer at KNBC Channel 4 in Los Angeles. They worked together again in the early '80s when Brokaw was host of the "Today" show.
"Michael Gartner came to me yesterday and said that he thought it was time for a new direction on the newscast," Wheatley said in an interview. "He said that he thought the best way to achieve that was with a new producer. I don't know what that new direction will be, but I'm proud of the program we've done, and I wish him and Steve the very best."
According to sources at NBC, Wheatley will be offered another job at NBC News. Friedman will take over in June.