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NBC Ousts Executive Producer of 'Today'

October 11, 2002|MEG JAMES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After behind-the-scenes tension at the "Today" show, NBC on Thursday decided to replace the morning show's top producer, Jonathan Wald, two network executives said.

Former "Good Morning America" senior producer Tom Touchet is a leading candidate to replace Wald, one NBC executive said.

Wald, 36, became executive producer of the "Today" show in May 2001, replacing Jeff Zucker, who was promoted to NBC entertainment president. Previously, Wald had been executive producer of "NBC Nightly News." He is expected to remain at the network in another post.

Under Wald, the "Today" show maintained its ratings dominance. The program, anchored by Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, during the last year has averaged 6.1 million viewers, or 1.5 million more than ABC's "Good Morning America." ABC has nibbled into the lead of "Today," last week narrowing the gap to 1.1 million viewers.

NBC executives said the shake-up had little to do with ratings. "They thought it would be better to make a change before they had a problem," one executive said.

NBC sources said all was not sunny on the "Today" set. Couric and Lauer "lost confidence in the guy," one executive said.

This summer, USA Today reported that Couric angrily confronted Wald after ABC's Diane Sawyer got an exclusive interview with a rescued Pennsylvania miner. ABC also made a deal with the miners for a TV movie.

In addition, NBC executives were furious that ABC showed segments of a Ted Koppel interview with Bruce Springsteen after NBC had been assured an exclusive.

This week, the "Today" show canceled Lauer's planned trip to Cuba, saying the government had reneged on a promised interview with President Fidel Castro. Instead, ABC's Barbara Walters landed the interview, and "Good Morning America" aired excerpts.

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