Tune in to MSNBC at 3 PM ET/noon PT tomorrow to see Brian Williams make his near miraculous return to NBC News, anchoring the cable news network’s coverage of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States.
Starting Williams at 3 gives him, and viewers, time to get past any initial awkwardness and settled in before The Cool Pope’s schedule 4 PM ET touchdown at Andrews Air Force Base as he kicks off his visit in Washington, D.C. Expect to see Williams on the air a couple hours tomorrow, and to continue anchoring throughout the week, primarily, though not exclusively, from the new news desk built for MSNBC at studio 3A inside 30 Rock – the same studio from which many MSNBC’s dayside shows are telecast.
Do not expect Williams to make any kind of preliminary statement about his return to air, though tomorrow will mark his first time on live TV since February when he anchored his last NBC Nightly News telecast. NBC News suspended its Nightly News anchor that month, ending his decade-long run at that desk, when claims got out he’d made up stuff about his experience covering breaking news events
Williams will instead get straight to work anchoring the Pope’s visit. What viewers will see is a Brian Williams who’s studied up, intent on turning the page, and comports himself like a guy who wants to anchor the news, not make it, according to an insider.
Even so, Williams’ return to air is big news among Reporters Who Cover TV, many of whom had declared him toast after the news division began to dig into the stories with which Williams became a hit on the late night talk show circuit, among other venues. “At this point, Brian Williams knows he’s dead: he’s simply negotiating terms of his burial,” Politico surmised back in April, a sentiment subsequently echoed by other media outlets. Williams did lose his Nightly News chair, and at MSNBC he has not, to date, been given his own program, instead being tasked with anchoring breaking news as it happen. But reports of the death of Williams’ NBC News career appear to have been exaggerated.
Also, do not expect to see Williams with Pope Francis. Among the allegations NBC News was believed to have been investigating were claims Williams had changed his account of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Catholic University in the late 70’s while Williams was a student there. Initially, Williams said he was there at the time; later he said he received a blessing from John Paul. Neither account was given on an NBC News program.
Between his final Nightly News broadcast and today’s unveiling, Williams has been seen on air once, in June, when he was interviewed to tape by Matt Lauer, which aired on NBC’s Today show and during that night’s Nightly News. It was not particularly well received; particularly the part about his suspension having been “torture” for him. That bit was edited out of the Nightly News broadcast.
After Pope Francis’ departure, Williams will be seen on MSNBC as big news happens, though it’s unclear how “big” is defined by NBC News chief Andrew Lack or MSNBC chief Phil Griffin. As one industry exec put it, NBC News’ plan appears to be “get through the first week and see what happens next week.”