NBC News this morning made it official: Andrew Lack, who ran the division from 1993-2001, is returning to the scene of his greatest professional achievement, to try to put the place back together again.
“Andy Lack is returning to the company as Chairman, NBC News and MSNBC,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke announced this morning to staff in a memo (see below). “Andy will join our Executive Committee and report directly to me. He will begin in April.
“Pat Fili-Krushel, who has been one of my most trusted advisors since she joined NBCUniversal four years ago, will move into a new corporate role on my executive team,” he added.
Four years ago, when Comcast CEO Brian Roberts boasted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe about his media company’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, he called the news division “the crown jewel of Comcast.” It was Lack’s crown jewel — No. 1 evening newscast, No. 1 morning infotainment show, No. 1 Sunday Beltway show. Roberts called the division a “huge responsibility” and an opportunity he took “quite seriously.” Under Comcast, NBC News now trails ABC in the mornings, trails CBS on Sunday, and has had to suspend its evening news anchor while it investigates his imaginative renderings of his role in the division’s coverage of various major news events.
Lack, who took over the news division the first time in ’93 after a scandal over a Dateline report on General Motors, now gets to clean up the mess.
Deborah Turness, hired by Fili-Krushel, will remain in her job, reporting to Lack. Ditto Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC. Mark Hoffman, President of CNBC, and Andy will “work closely to ensure that where appropriate CNBC will leverage the strength of the News Group portfolio,” Burke said, adding that Hoffman will continue on the Executive Committee and report to him.
Here are Lack’s biggest challenges:
Brian Williams. Lack is said to be very close to Williams who he groomed at NBC News. Williams went on to replace Tom Brokaw when Brokaw stepped down as anchor of NBC Nightly News in 2004, inheriting a program Lack and Brokaw had built into the top rated of its genre. Then Williams snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last month, when he misrepresented his role in the network’s coverage of an incident in the early days of the Iraq War, on NBC Nightly News, and soldiers protested. Williams may have made things worse when he then tried, on air, to characterize his claim as a “mistake” in recollection, made during a “bungled” attempt to “thank one special veteran.” Lack already played an advisory role in orchestrating Williams’ six-month suspension without pay (aka $5 million fine). And it has been widely speculated that bringing back Lack to head the division actually is about paving the way for Williams to return to Nightly News (with an assist, maybe, from Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, who has been stoutly denying reports he embellished his own career while his network stands firmly behind him, calling the reports nothing more than “an orchestrated campaign” by the far left).
Today. When Lack left NBC News, he had Katie Couric co-anchoring Today with Matt Lauer and the show on top of the world. Yesterday, ABC News boasted its Good Morning America had delivered its largest news demo margin over Today during a February sweep in 22 years, and its 11th consecutive sweep win over Today in total viewers. The show, and Lauer, still are recuperating from The Year of Ann Curry, in which Curry ascended to the co-anchor spot and ratings descended. It culminated in maybe the most bungled exit in TV news history, in June of 2012:
Recently NBC News hired ESPN exec Jamie Horowitz to turn around the show, only his scorched-earth style so irked Lauer and others at the show, Horowitz was let go after just 10 weeks, making Horowitz the Anne of Cleves of NBC News. Lack’s the guy who gave Lauer his job on Today and their relationship is said to be “thick as thieves” in nature.
Meet The Press. Tim Russert already was host of Meet the Press when Lack came on board in 1993, but Lack did nothing to mess it up and Russert owned the Sunday Beltway Show genre until June 13, 2008, when he collapsed and died at NBC News’ Washington bureau while recording voiceovers for that Sunday’s broadcast. David Gregory replaced him; ratings tumbled. NBC News hired a “psychological consultant” to size up Gregory and why he was not connecting with viewers. Then, last August, the division kicked him to the curb, on a weekday, effective immediately – no final broadcast for Gregory – after weeks spent dismissing reports the move was imminent as “ludicrous” and “insulting.” On that Sunday’s Meet the Press, fill-in host Andrea Mitchell delivered what sounded like a eulogy:
Chuck Todd took over last September; this past Sunday, MTP trailed CBS’ Face The Nation by about 300,000 viewers and about 15,000 in the news demo, while topping ABC’s This Week in both metrics. It’s overall audience of 3.4 million viewers was its best showing in a year.
I want to let you know about some changes we are making within the NBCUniversal News Group. Andy Lack is returning to the company as Chairman, NBC News and MSNBC. Andy will join our Executive Committee and report directly to me. He will begin in April.
Pat Fili-Krushel, who has been one of my most trusted advisors since she joined NBCUniversal four years ago, will move into a new corporate role on my executive team.
Andy is an accomplished journalist who began his award-winning news career in 1976 at CBS and rose through the newsroom ranks until he joined NBC News as President in 1993. While at NBC, he presided over the News division’s unprecedented rise to number one, led by “Today,” “Nightly News,” “Dateline” and “Meet the Press.” In 2001 Andy was promoted to President and COO of NBC, where he was responsible for news, entertainment, TV stations, MSNBC and CNBC. Andy’s executive leadership also includes six years as CEO and Chairman of the Bloomberg Media Group, before leaving in September of 2014 to assume his most recent position as CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Prior to that, he was CEO and Chairman of Sony Music Entertainment.
Andy’s experience and familiarity with our company and specifically the news division will be critical to our growth and future success. Deborah Turness, President of NBC News and Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC will both report to Andy. Mark Hoffman, President of CNBC, and Andy will work closely to ensure that where appropriate CNBC will leverage the strength of the News Group portfolio. Mark will continue on the Executive Committee and report to me. All of Pat’s other direct reports will report to Andy.
When we created the News Group in 2011, I asked Pat to run it in order to maximize the combined strength of our portfolio as audiences fundamentally change the way they consume news. In that time Pat has helped position the organization for future growth by integrating television and digital, creating innovative partnerships, and modernizing the tools and technology we use to gather and deliver news. As she approaches three years in the role, I have asked Pat to return to my team and work directly with me again as she did before she took on her news responsibilities. I am grateful to Pat for her work and accomplishments at the NBCUniversal News Group and for helping to identify Andy as her successor. I look forward to having her back on the 51st floor.
Please join me in welcoming Andy back to our company and in thanking Pat.
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