In his first town hall meeting since becoming Chairman of NBC News Group, Andy Lack laid out plans to greatly increase collaboration between the ratings-starved cable news network and NBC News as part of a strategy to focus on breaking news on the cable network and de-emphasize left-leaning opinion programming.
Talking to the staff from 30 Rock’s Studio 8H, home of Saturday Night Live and the NBC Symphony conducted by Arturo Toscanini — back in the days when broadcast networks did that sort of thing — a relaxed and upbeat Lack talked about the progress that’s been made at the division, most notably the strong ratings start for Lester Holt as anchor of NBC Nightly News, as well as the recent ratings gains of NBC’s Today and Sunday Beltway show Meet The Press.
Those were pretty good talking points for a guy who inherited a division trailing ABC in the mornings, trailing CBS on Sunday and operating under a cloud in the evening with a suspended anchor under internal investigation for his imaginative renderings of his role in at least one major news event. Four years ago, when Comcast CEO Brian Roberts boasted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe about his media company’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, calling the news division “the crown jewel of Comcast,” it was Lack’s treasure. Lack previously ran NBC News from 1993-2001, during which time he groomed the No. 1 evening newscast, No. 1 morning infotainment show and the No. 1 Sunday Beltway show.
Lack today did not give specific details of programming plans for MSNBC, according to sources with knowledge of the situation who did not wish to be quoted. But he spoke of moving to hard news in daytime, while continuing with opinion and talk in the mornings and primetime. To Lack’s point, the network is expected to announce soon that Chuck Todd is heading to double duty, anchoring an afternoon program for the cable news network while continuing as host of NBC broadcast network’s Meet The Press. That’s a Sunday Beltway show trend: Jake Tapper now headlines CNN’s Sunday show, while also anchoring The Lead weekday afternoons, and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos hosts This Week while continuing to have a co-anchor role on ABC News’ morning infotainment program Good Morning America.
The news would mark a return to MSNBC for Todd, who anchored The Daily Rundown on the cable news net from its launch until 2014 when he was named to anchor Meet The Press. Todd is a major player for NBC News in an election cycle; since he took over as host in September, MTP logged its best Q2 total viewer haul in two years (2.6 million) and best news demo performance (808,000) in three. Todd yesterday snagged an Emmy nom for best interview on the program.
Todd’s rejoining Andrea Mitchell, whose noontime program is expected to survive substantial daytime changes. Mitchell, likewise, crosses between the broadcast and cable networks; she also serves as NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and has been a key player in the broadcast network’s coverage of presidential election cycles.
Also expected to remain is Thomas Roberts’ two-hour block, added back in February when a stab at nabbing the multiplatform generation, with shows hosted by Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid, flatlined. The buzzword that day in February at MSNBC was “news-focused” — as in, that is the direction the network is doing in daytime.
Lack likewise did not address the future of The Cycle, Now With Alex Wagner or The Ed Show – the three low-rated shows sources are saying are on the block as part of Lack’s strategy. Todd’s MSNBC program is expected to get a berth in that block of time. Lack also did not spell out details of the role to be played by Brian Williams as Lack looks to drag MSNBC out of the ratings cellar. On June 18, Lack announced that when Williams’ six-month suspension ends, he would return to NBC but would be assigned to MSNBC rather than return to the anchor chair at NBC Nightly News. That desk instead was was handed over to Holt, who since being named permanent anchor, has snagged fourth consecutive across-the-board weekly ratings wins, including total viewers, the 25-54 news demo and 18- to 49-year-olds.
Lack said back in June that Williams would anchor breaking news and special reports at MSNBC, working with Mark Lukasiewicz, SVP Special Reports for NBCU News Group.
After Lack rallied the troops this morning, NBC News President Deborah Turness and MSNBC chief Phil Griffin took the stage with him. They answered questions, some of which had been submitted in advance and others that were asked on the spot.