NBC News Chief Andrew Lack Targets MSNBC as Priorities Emerge
Reviving the reeling network and figuring out Brian Williams' fate top the list as the exec takes charge.
This story first appeared in the April 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Andrew Lack doesn't officially start his new job as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC until April 6. But the returning leader has been a regular presence at the company's 30 Rock headquarters, where he's been holding long meetings with the news division's senior vps, talent and producers. And sources say he's already indicated his first projects will be devising a plan to reverse the ratings slide at MSNBC and determining the fate of Brian Williams, the Nightly News anchor who is nearly two months into a six-month suspension for fibbing about his time in Iraq.
The tide among the rank and file at NBC News is against reinstating Williams. And there is a concern among executives at NBCUniversal about the optics of pushing Lester Holt out of the anchor chair he has occupied since the scandal broke in early February. Lack, 67, is known to have a friendship with Williams, and he had been advising NBCU CEO Steve Burke about how to handle the scandal. But as one source puts it: "This is a big decision. This is not a decision based on friendship."
MSNBC insiders expect the programming revamp that began with the axing of daytime shows hosted by Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid to continue. There is widespread speculation that Al Sharpton's show could be moved to a weekend slot as the network led by Phil Griffin hews toward news programming during daytime. The fate of 8 p.m. host Chris Hayes, a protege of Rachel Maddow, is unclear. "Contrary to rumors that already have been reported, there are no plans to move Rev. Sharpton's or Chris Hayes' shows," says an MSNBC spokesperson.
MSNBC has been on a ratings slide for months; in February, it was down 48 percent in primetime in the 25-to-54 demo and 43 percent in total day compared with the same month last year, when MSNBC hosts, notably Maddow, were hammering New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over the so-called Bridgegate scandal.
Lack, who in his previous stint at NBC presided over the partnership with Microsoft that created MSNBC, is expected to more closely integrate NBC News and MSNBC, a reversal of the strategy advocated by NBC News president Deborah Turness that drew a stark line between the units.