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Don Browne, president of NBCUniversal's Telemundo network, retires

April 12, 2011 |  8:48 am

Telemundo President Don Browne is stepping down, clearing the way for his new bosses at NBCUniversal to make sweeping changes to the Spanish-language television operation.

Browne, who turns 68 next month, plans to leave the company June 3 -- the eight anniversary of his arrival at Telemundo after a distinguished career in NBC News. Browne joined NBC in 1979 as NBC News' Miami bureau chief. He eventually became a top executive within NBC News, and later served as general manager of WTVJ, NBC's owned-and-operated station in Miami.

Don Browne NBCUniversal said it would announce a new Telemundo president "in the coming months."

The architect of Telemundo's entry into the business of original programming, Browne wanted to end the network's reliance on foreign studios for its prime-time shows.  Browne oversaw the construction of a small TV production center in Hialeah, Fla., just outside of Miami. In recent months, the network has grown its ratings on the strength of its original telenovela, "La Reina del Sur."

However, despite investing hundreds of millions of dollars in original programming over the years, the NBCUniversal-owned Spanish-language network has struggled to make headway in the market. It is dwarfed by its more potent rival, Univision Communications Inc., which obtains most of its popular prime-time soap operas, or telenovelas, from its Mexican programming partner, Grupo Televisa.  Univision has a substantial advantage because its telenovelas -- which have already played on TV in Mexico --  are cheaper to acquire and have a track record. Univision schedules the programs that generated big ratings in Mexico and appeal to the large Mexican American population in the U.S.

When Comcast Corp. took control of NBCUniversal in January, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal's new chief, Steve Burke, said they wanted Telemundo to produce stronger ratings and, thus, more revenue for the company.

Browne was assigned a new supervisor, Lauren Zalaznick, who is dramatically different from the suit-and-tie bosses that Browne had before. Instead of giving Browne autonomy to run his business, Zalaznick was determined to get involved, even taking Spanish lessons and spending days immersing herself in Telemundo's operations in South Florida and Los Angeles.

Since 2005, Browne has been responsible for all of Telemundo's business and programming functions, including running Telemundo's 14 owned-and-operated television stations, including KVEA-TV Channel 52 in Los Angeles. He also managed Telemundo's news and sports operations and its youth-oriented cable channel, mun2.

NBCUniversal said Browne was "an early and fervent supporter of NBC's investment in Spanish-language television and played a key role in the company's 2001 acquisition of Telemundo."

"Don Browne has had an outstanding career as a broadcaster and executive, from his years as a bureau chief and executive vice president of NBC News to his tenure most recently at Telemundo," Burke said in a statement Tuesday announcing Browne's retirement.  "We are grateful for what he has accomplished."

-- Meg James

Photo: Don Browne. Credit: Telemundo / NBCUniversal