'Today' show executive Noah Oppenheim is named president of NBC News

NBC News moved to shake up its management team Tuesday, putting the future of the news division in the hands of Noah Oppenheim, the executive in charge of the network’s highly profitable morning show “Today.”

The respected 38-year-old news producer, who also has a successful career as a screenwriter, is replacing Deborah Turness as president of news. Turness, the former British television executive who arrived at NBC News in 2013 is returning to London, where she will run a new international news gathering venture for NBC News, which is looking to expand globally.

The leadership changes come at a critical time for NBC News. This fall, the division is creating a new network talk show for Megyn Kelly, the star anchor who was wooed away from Fox News. Successfully moving big name news talent to a new network has historically been challenging, so NBC News and Oppenheim will face heavy scrutiny when the show launches.

But Oppenheim has already navigated difficult waters as executive-in-charge of “Today,” the network’s venerable morning program that he is widely credited with rebuilding.

When he took over the program in early 2015, it was still reeling from a ratings drop that occurred after the messy departure of former anchor Ann Curry. Fans had defected over the handling of the longtime “Today” favorite's exit.

Oppenheim, who had previously worked on the show from 2005 to 2008, became a stabilizing force after taking over. He brought more news content to the program — a move that came a time when many people who worked on the show believed it had become too soft as it chased ratings leader “Good Morning America,” the lighter and brighter competition on ABC.

Oppenheim is also responsible for simplifying the opening of the program and creating segments that make better use of the larger ensemble cast in the second hour.

Most importantly, Oppenheim made the main co-anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie feel more comfortable, which is something that morning show viewers pick up on. Ratings at “Today” have stabilized in the last year and the program has regained its lead among viewers in the 25 to 54 age group coveted by advertisers.

Fixing “Today” is vital to NBC News as it produces nearly $500 million in ad revenue annually. Oppenheim’s reward is the president’s job that puts him in line to eventually succeed NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, who is 69.

“Noah has done a fantastic job leading the ‘Today,’ franchise,” Lack said in his memo announcing Oppenheim’s promotion. “He has honed the broadcast, and audiences have rewarded us for it.”

Oppenheim, who reports to Lack, will still run “Today” while in his new role.

Oppenheim’s screenwriting credits include “Jackie,”  the well-received 2016 release for Fox Searchlight that depicts former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the days after her husband’s assassination.

NBC also announced that it invested $30 million to take a 25% stake in Euronews, a global news-gathering service based in Lyon, France. Renamed Euronews NBC, the unit will give NBC coverage from nearly 500 journalists. It will also expand the reach of NBC News, putting its content in the 277 million homes that Euronews reaches globally, improving its ability to compete with rival CNN.

Turness will head the new international division. She had been hired as NBC News president when Pat Fili was running the division. But her influence waned after Fili was replaced by Lack, who was brought in to quell the turmoil that resulted from the scandal that took down former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams.

Williams was permanently removed from the anchor chair in June 2015 after an internal investigation found that he lied on and off the air about his reporting experiences during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. He is now an anchor on NBC’s cable news channel MSNBC.

Lack, who had previously overseen NBC News in the 1990s, a period that became its most successful in the network’s history, became the top programming decision-maker once he arrived.

Before the Williams situation disrupted the division, Turness had steadied NBC News after a rocky start. Long timers at the news division were unhappy over her initial proposals, which included adding a studio audience to the Washington discussion show “Meet the Press” and putting a dog on “Today.” “Meet the Press” still has a closed set, but “Today” is already on its second dog.

NBC is making the moves while it’s in a position of ratings strength. Along with “Today,” the network’s other high profile news programs “Meet the Press” and “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” are in first place in the 25 to 54 demographic. Its prime-time news magazine “Dateline” remains a profit center for the division as well.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio


UPDATES:

4:30 p.m.: This post was updated to include additional analysis of the management changes at NBC News.

This article was originally published at 11:50 a.m.

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