Steve Friedman, executive producer of NBC's top-ranked "Today" show, yesterday notified the network he is leaving at the end of July.
Friedman is weighing several offers from major studios but reportedly is close to signing a deal with GTG Entertainment, which is led by Grant Tinker. Tinker was chairman of NBC for five years before resigning last summer in the wake of the takeover of parent RCA by General Electric.
"Today" Senior Producer Marty Ryan reportedly will replace Friedman at the helm of both the weekday show and "Sunday Today," which NBC News will launch in late September.
Friedman completed seven years as executive producer of "Today" last month, after joining the program as West Coast producer in 1977. His current contract would have expired in May 1988.
For mostof the first five years of his tenure as executive producer, Friedman endured second place in the morning network race behind ABC's "Good Morning America."
But he retained faith in his team of Bryant Gumbel, Jane Pauley and Willard Scott, and in the late fall of 1985, as NBC became dominant in prime time, "Today" returned to the top. Last week it finished first for the 35th week in a row.
Friedman has been frank for some time about his desire to move into independent production and escape the daily grind of a morning show.
Sources said yesterday that while NBC News had hoped to retain him for the "Today" productions, the network also offered him alternative projects, without success. He reportedly has received offers from Fox Television and Disney as well as GTG Entertainment and is expected to talk to Paramount during the next several weeks.
With the negotiations dragging on, NBC News President Lawrence Grossman had asked Friedman to make a decision by yesterday. At noon, Friedman called him in Chicago to confirm his departure.
Grossman said late yesterday: "Steve represents the best that we have. With him at the helm, 'Today' returned to Number 1 and he has left the show in great hands. We wish him all the best in his new life.