Don Ohlmeyer, the head of NBC West Coast who is credited with taking the network to No. 1 in the ratings this year, checked himself into the Betty Ford Center on Thursday for a 28-day treatment program for alcohol dependency.
Warren Littlefield, the president of NBC Entertainment, will temporarily take over Ohlmeyer's responsibilities.
Although speculation circulated through Hollywood on Thursday that top management at NBC had forced the move and timed it to correspond with the December lull in the television business, the company denied having any hand in Ohlmeyer's decision.
NBC said Ohlmeyer voluntarily admitted himself for treatment.
"We commend Don for taking this action and support him in this decision," said Robert Wright, president and chief executive of NBC, in the statement. "Don is an invaluable leader and we all have the highest regard and respect for him. We look forward to having him back as soon as possible."
Wright flew from New York to break the news Thursday morning to the top 15 or so executives on Ohlmeyer's staff in Burbank. During the staff briefing, Littlefield praised his boss for what he characterized as a gutsy move taken without prompting from the company.
One NBC executive at the meeting said the news "came out of nowhere," but that Ohlmeyer's battle with alcohol was no secret. He added: "The general attitude is, 'Hurray, this is good.' There is a lot of loyalty here and people are rooting for him."
Ohlmeyer took over the entertainment group three years ago when NBC was in third place in the ratings. Ohlmeyer, known as an inspirational leader with keen instincts for producing television shows, has a reputation in Hollywood for his hard-drinking, chain-smoking outspoken personality.
He found himself in the center of controversy earlier this year, when Jamie Tarses, a high-level development executive at NBC, allegedly threatened to file sexual harassment charges against him to secure an early release from her contract. Both NBC and Tarses denied that threats were made, but she was released from her contract and subsequently became president of ABC Entertainment.
In denying the reports, Ohlmeyer was quoted in the press as saying: "Have I ever had too much to drink and said something I wish I hadn't? Sure."
December is a slow period in television as shows go on hiatus. Development decisions for next season begin in January.