What Job Could Brian Williams Have At NBC If He Isn't Reinstated As The 'Nightly News' Anchor?
He's only about halfway through his six-month suspension, but a new report from CNN Money says Brian Williams may not return to NBC Nightly News, at least not in the same role. Williams, who was both anchor and managing editor of NBC's flagship news program, has been off the air since it was discovered he misrepresented his role in several news stories, including an incident during the Iraq War in 2003. Williams had claimed he was in a helicopter that was shot down, a story which has since been discredited, with Williams himself saying on-air in February that he had "made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago." The CNN Money report cites unnamed sources who say NBC is considering several scenarios for Williams, including a financial agreement that could end his tenure at the network.
However, the CNN report states, NBC News chairman Andy Lack is "contorting to figure out a way to keep" Williams, even if it's not as news anchor. What that role might look like wasn't clear, but it's not without precedent at NBC to rearrange the deck chairs after an on-air problem with a prominent anchor. After the network decided it was going promote Savannah Guthrie to co-anchor the Today show with Matt Lauer, it meant an unceremonious on-air breakup with co-anchor Ann Curry. Curry was reassigned as an "anchor at large," the network reported, but her tearful goodbye was excruciating to watch, and suggested the new job was not exactly what she wanted. Curry herself never publicly commented about the situation, except to say she was "grateful" to NBC for the opportunities it had given her. Many industry observers blamed the NBC's handling of the Today situation (Curry left NBC entirely earlier this year) as one factor in the show's decline in ratings among morning-show viewers.
NBC likely wants to avoid a repeat of the Curry situation with Williams, who signed a new five-year contract in December, just a few weeks before the allegations of his misrepresentations came to light. It would probably be expensive to let Williams go entirely, according to Variety, since his contract was reportedly worth $10 million a year. So a roving reporter role like the one that was envisioned for Curry might make sense. In order for NBC to get its money's worth, however, they'd have to use Williams a lot more often than they did Curry. According to USA Today, from the time she left Today to the time she departed, Curry had only done a "handful" of reports for the network.
Would a non-news role, perhaps in NBC's entertainment division or as host of a less news-oriented show, suit Williams? It seems unlikely that such a job would exist for him at NBC; not long after his suspension, reports surfaced that said Williams expressed interest in the Tonight Show host job before NBC gave it to current host Jimmy Fallon. The idea was nixed by NBC top brass, however, according to a March piece in New York Magazine. Fallon has proven so popular on the Tonight Show that it seems highly unrealistic that NBC would consider ousting him for Williams. But what about a substitute host role? Fallon needs to take a vacation sometime, and the precedent for using guest hosts was firmly established by longtime Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. But if the idea was already shot down once by NBC, they may not reconsider it.
Could Williams just negotiate a departure from NBC? It's possible, and is also not without precedent in the TV anchor universe for a big name to switch networks: Katie Couric left Today in 2006 for CBS News, and later went to Yahoo News. But Couric's departure was on her terms and was viewed as a step up from morning show to evening news anchor. Williams would be leaving NBC with a cloud over his head that might be hard to escape.
Whatever his new role might be, it seems unfair to just unseat interim NBC Nightly News host Lester Holt, who took over when Williams was suspended. When the network announced he would fill in for Williams during his suspension, NBC apparently made no promises to Holt beyond the six-month period, according to The New York Times. And, the Associated Press reported Nightly News' ratings since Holt took over have been somewhat mixed. NBC might view Williams' return, even with a tarnished record, as a risk worth taking.
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