NBC News taps ‘Dateline’ boss

Shapiro becomes division's prexy, replaces Lack

NEW YORK — Looking to expand, NBC News has tapped one of its own to lead the top-ranked division.

As expected, “Dateline NBC” executive producer Neal Shapiro was named NBC News prexy on Thursday, replacing Andrew Lack, who was upped to president and chief operating officer of NBC earlier this week (Daily Variety, May 9).

With Shapiro in the top news job, “Dateline” is sure to retain its primacy on the Peacock’s primetime sked. He said NBC plans to air at least the same number of “Dateline” segments next year as this year. “Dateline” airs on four nights, more than any other network primetime newsmag.

“Under Neal, NBC News is just going to keep growing bigger and better,” Lack wrote in an internal memo to news division staffers.

Shapiro joined NBC News in 1993 as exec producer of “Dateline.” He is credited with returning the luster to the franchise, which had been badly damaged by a 1992 report in which a truck was rigged to catch fire on impact. The incident led to the resignation of three producers and the departure of Michael Gartner, Lack’s predecessor as news prexy.

Shapiro takes over a news division that is, by most measures, the industry leader: “Today” rules in the ayem; “NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw” is on a three-year winning streak; and “Meet the Press” is the top-rated Sunday morning public affairs show. While MSNBC trails Fox News and CNN in ratings, it boasts the youngest audience of the three news nets and gives NBC News talent higher visibility.

The news division is a huge earner for NBC, generating $600 million in revenue last year.

Shapiro will work with Lack to choose his replacement at “Dateline” and a new exec producer for “Today.” NBC News senior VP David Corvo is considered a front-runner for the “Dateline” job. The “Today” spot has been open since January, when Jeff Zucker left to become prexy of NBC Entertainment.

“NBC Nightly News” exec producer Jonathan Wald and interim “Today” chief Michael Bass both have been considered top candidates.

Shapiro also will be charged with trying to convince “Today” co-anchor Katie Couric to stick around after her contract expires next May. A number of syndicators, specifically King World and Buena Vista TV, have expressed interest in creating syndicated yakkers for Couric.

“Katie is obviously a terrific talent, and we want to keep her in the NBC family. All of us are going to do what we can to make that happen,” Shapiro said.

While industry insiders wonder whether Lack will be able to step away from his daily oversight of NBC News, Shapiro said it was a nonissue. “Andy is going to be very, very busy. Besides, I’m going to want to hear from him,” said Shapiro, who was previously a producer at ABC News.

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