Steve Friedman, the brash, quick-joking executive who guided NBC's "Today" show from also-ran status to dominance in the early-morning ratings wars, plans to leave the network in early August, NBC said Friday.
Friedman, who has been executive producer of "Today" since May, 1980 and has been with NBC for 18 years, did not disclose his future plans and was not immediately available for comment.
His intention to depart had been rumored in recent weeks. Friends of his had said that he was wearying of the predawn wake-ups and wanted to move back to Los Angeles. There is strong speculation that he plans to work in entertainment for the new production company of former NBC chairman Grant Tinker.
Tinker's company, GTG Entertainment, has an exclusive contract to supply programs to CBS.
A successor to Friedman at the "Today" show was not immediately named. NBC officials said they did not know whether the new producer of the weekday series also would double as executive producer of the new 90-minute "Sunday Today" morning show that will premiere Sept. 20.
NBC News president Lawrence K. Grossman, in a prepared statement, praised Friedman and said: "I have no doubt that the standard Steve maintained will continue on 'Today'. . . . We wish him well in his new life."
When Friedman took over the "Today" show, it was being passed in the ratings by ABC's "Good Morning America." It took more than five years, but he finally succeeded in regaining the program's No. 1 early-morning position.
In his prepared statement, Friedman, who began with NBC as a newswriter at KNBC-TV Channel 4 in Burbank, called his years at NBC "the best of my professional life."
"Now, even as I plan for life after NBC, I know the highs of working at America's No. 1 network will remain with me forever."