Andrew Lack in Talks to Replace Pat Fili-Krushel Atop NBC News

Associated Press
Andrew Lack and Meredith Vieira

The former NBC News and Bloomberg exec would replace Fili-Krushel as the top exec in charge of the company's news assets.

Andrew Lack, the former CBS News and Bloomberg News executive, is in preliminary talks for a senior role at NBC Universal's news division.

Sources say Lack — who ran NBC News in the 1990s before being promoted to the top job at NBC — would replace Pat Fili-Krushel as the top executive in charge of NBC's news assets, including NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and their digital assets. Fili-Krushel, a loyal lieutenant of NBCUni CEO Steve Burke, is expected to move to a different role in the company.

Deborah Turness, the current president of NBC News, would stay in her post. But there also is rampant speculation that she could return to London-based ITV, where she previously worked. The search for a seasoned news veteran is being led by Burke with Fili-Krushel. And sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Lack met last week in Manhattan with Burke and Fili-Krushel.

Variety first reported that Lack was in discussions with NBC News.

Lack would bring deep knowledge of the news business (and NBC News specifically) to the job, something that Fili-Krushel, though she is a veteran TV executive, has lacked. He began his career at CBS News in the 1970s where he was a producer at 60 Minutes, the well-regarded CBS Reports and the newsmagazine West 57th. Lack was president of NBC News from 1993 to 2001, a tenure during which all three of the news division's broadcasts achieved top-rated status. The highly lucrative Today show introduced the much-copied streetside studio and also expanded to a third hour during Lack's leadership of NBC News. From there, he was promoted to the top job at NBC. He left the company two years later and was named CEO of Sony BMG Music Entertainment in 2004. He resurfaced in 2008 at Bloomberg, where we was CEO of the company's multimedia group. He left Bloomberg in September 2013. And last year, he was named director and CEO of the the Washington, D.C.-based Broadcasting Board of Governors. He was sworn in to the post in January.

It's unclear how exactly Lack would shake up the company's news units, but it's clear that he is being courted to bring order and stability to an organization that has suffered significant challenges since Comcast's $14 billion takeover of NBCUniversal in 2011. 

At the time, Comcast chairman Brian L. Roberts described NBC's news assets as the “crown jewel” of the merger. But since then, NBC News (and to a lesser extent, MSNBC) has suffered a series of very public setbacks that many inside the organization believe have damaged the unit's storied legacy. MSNBC is in the midst of a lineup shakeup that could see more shows canceled as the network attempts to refocus on news after years of growth with opinionated hosts including Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann.

NBC News has been particularly beset with challenges dating back to the botched ouster of Today co-host Ann Curry in 2012 and continuing with the clumsy transition from David Gregory to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press and culminating with last month's scandal involving Brian Williams' apparent misstatements and exaggerations about multiple reporting trips. NBC is investigating Williams, and on Feb. 23 he was suspended for six months without pay. Lester Holt is currently filling in at Nightly News, which last week managed to hold a slim lead over ABC's World News Tonight.

But the issues are not confined to on-air talent. Fili-Krushel and Turness seemed to have responded to the challenges by bringing in a growing roster of vice presidents who, NBC News insiders say, do not understand the culture and have created a layer between the rank-and-file and management that is counterproductive. The recent hiring and firing of former ESPN executive Jamie Horowitz as the executive in charge of the Today show franchise is only the most high-profile example. Horowitz was let go after only three months on the job when he suggested a drastic remake of Today that included major talent changes; NBC was required to pay out his $3 million contract.

Horowitz's replacement, Noah Oppenheim, a veteran of NBC News and MSNBC, started last week and participated in an off-site meeting with NBC News staffers. Oppenheim's hiring has been cheered by many at NBC News who pointed to his experience as a producer; he launched MSNBC's Scarborough County and also ran the 7 a.m. hard news hour of Today. But others noted the optics of bringing in yet another well-compensated vp so soon after Horowitz's departure.

For his part, Lack certainly has an intimate grasp of the NBC News culture; he has maintained friendships with Matt Lauer and Tom Brokaw, who was anchor of the Nightly News during Lack's previous stint there. But he also is a product of the halcyon days of the broadcast news business, when money flowed and competition from cable and digital was scarce or nonexistent.

“He likes to stay above the fray,” notes one person who has worked with him. If Lack rejoins NBC News, he'll be stepping into a division that will need to be rebuilt amid tighter budgets and heightened scrutiny.