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It's official: NBC5 head man Tom O'Brien to run New York's WNBC-TV (updated)

As reported Wednesday night on unclebarky.com (scroll down), KXAS-TV (Channel 5) president and general manger Tom O'Brien has been named to run NBC's owned-and-operated WNBC-TV, the network's New York flagship station.

The promotion was announced Thursday by John Wallace, president of NBC Local Media.

O'Brien, who has been in charge of Dallas-Fort Worth's NBC5 since June 2001, "is a natural choice to lead our efforts in New York," Wallace said in a statement. "His track record of success at KXAS and his ability to adapt to the changing business climate will be instrumental in continuing WNBC's mission to be New York's leading local content provider across all media platforms."

O'Brien replaces Frank Comerford, who's been "promoted" to president of Platform Development and Commercial Operations after almost six years as WNBC's head man.

NBC5 had a five-year ratings winning streak with its 10 p.m. newscasts during O'Brien's tenure. But the station was overtaken last year by WFAA8, which now is dominating the late night Nielsens in both total homes and among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

In the February "sweeps" ratings, NBC5's local newscasts also lagged far behind at 6 a.m. and at 5 and 6 p.m. Part of the problem is a continued poor performance in prime-time by the NBC network. But WFAA8 beat both the Peacock and CBS11 to the punch by being the first newscast to go to high-definition in February of last year. The ABC station also simultaneously opened its glimmering new Victory Park studios, creating a sense of excitement and momentum that rival stations haven't yet been able to match.

O'Brien, whose replacement at NBC5 hasn't been announced yet, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday morning. His secretary at NBC5 said he was "out of the office." But she agreeably left him a cell phone message that the understandably busy O'Brien hasn't yet returned.

In a memo to NBC5 staffers Thursday, O'Brien said he's leaving "with mixed emotions" and had hoped to be at the station "so that you could hear the news from me -- in person -- and not from an email, an industry blog or a press release. But circumstances dictated that I needed to be in New York."

O'Brien said that a search for his replacement is underway and "interim plans will be announced as soon as possible. I will be traveling back and forth between Texas and New York over the next few weeks as transition plans are finalized."

Taking the WNBC position was a "very difficult decision," O'Brien said. "But the opportunity to run the NBC flagship station in the market that I grew up in, combined with the proximity of both (wife) Pam's family and mine, made this the right opportunity both professionally and personally."