Shapiro in exit mode at Peacock

NBC News chief looking for door

NEW YORK — NBC News prexy Neal Shapiro has initiated talks to leave the network amid declining ratings at once-dominant “The Today Show.”

Shapiro’s request caught the network by surprise. No deal has been struck so far, and the net is far from naming a successor.

“Neal is still president of NBC News,” said spokeswoman Allison Gollust.

Change was already in the works at “Nightly News”: Executive producer Steve Capus was set to be promoted to fill the post of retiring exec VP Bill Wheatley. Capus’ No. 2, senior broadcast producer John Reiss, was expected to be named exec producer of “Nightly News.”

Shapiro’s departure throws these moves into limbo. As president of the news division, Shapiro oversees “Today,” “Nightly News,” “Dateline,” and “Meet the Press With Tim Russert.”

A former “Dateline” producer, Shapiro became news prexy just months before 9/11 and led the news division through the 2004 presidential election and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He is credited with engineering the successful transition from Tom Brokaw to Brian Williams, which included naming Williams two years before Brokaw’s retirement and giving him increasing time in the anchor chair.

Williams’ newscast has won every week since the transition, but ABC’s “World News Tonight” is mounting a strong challenge and often claims victories in the 25-54 demographic, on which advertising is bought and sold.

But while “Nightly News” has thrived, “Today” has lost its focus. Two weeks ago ABC’s “Good Morning America” came within 40,000 viewers of taking the morning show crown.

Shapiro saw his authority diminished as NBC U Television Group prexy Jeff Zucker ousted “Today” exec producer Tom Touchet and appointed Phil Griffin, former VP of primetime programming at MSNBC, and NBC sports producer Jim Bell to head up the show.

While “Today” bounced back to a lead of 90,000 viewers last week, the perception in the media-buying community placing bets in the upfront market is that “GMA” has the momentum.