The news came in a memo to staff from MSNBC president Rashida Jones.
“After nearly three decades as an award-winning journalist and anchor at MSNBC and NBC News, Brian Williams has informed us he would like to take the coming months to spend time with his family. He will be signing off from The 11th Hour at the end of the year.” (Read her full memo below.)
Said Williams in a statement: “This is the end of a chapter and the beginning of another. There are many things I want to do, and I’ll pop up again somewhere.”
Williams’ contract expires at the end of the year.
The news comes two months after MSNBC and NBCUniversal inked a new multiyear deal with their star 9 p.m. anchor Rachel Maddow. MSNBC also faces potential changes for Maddow, who anchors its highest-rated show and reportedly has wanted to scale back her five-night-a-week schedule. No announcement has been made on that.
Williams was a mainstay at NBC News, joining in 1993 and later anchoring The News with Brian Williams in 1996. He began anchoring the network’s flagship NBC Nightly News in late 2004, taking over the desk from Tom Brokaw. Williams remained in the job until February 2015, when he was suspended for half a year without pay — he was making $10 million a year — after relaying a false story about his time covering the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
He falsely claimed during a Nightly News broadcast that he was riding in a military helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in March 2003 – a claim Williams previously had made on Late Show with David Letterman. (That late-night host went on to have some fun at Williams’ expense.) NBC News launched an investigation into allegations Williams might have misrepresented other experiences while on assignment for the division.
“Brian now has the chance to earn back everyone’s trust,” then-new NBC News chairman Andy Lack said at the time. “I am hopeful that this new beginning will be good for Brian and the organization.”
Williams apologized, saying: “I’m sorry. I said things that weren’t true. I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers, and I’m determined to earn back their trust,”
That statement came the day NBC News announced that Williams would be returning to the news organization — but not the NBC Nightly News anchor chair, which was filled by Lester Holt. He returned to NBC News in September 2015, anchoring MSNBC’s coverage of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States.
The 11th Hour premiered in September 2016, with the presidential election mere weeks away. It proved to be a ratings winner for MSNBC, often topping its time slot last year among the three major news networks. Fox News has been drawing a larger audience since it programmed a late-night show with Greg Gutfeld, but Williams’ show has still drawn more viewers than CNN.
Among The 11th Hour‘s running bits was counting the number of days elapsed in the Trump administration, which Williams noted at the top of every broadcast, and eventually counting down the days to the 2020 election. He now does the same for the Joe Biden administration.
Williams was close to Andy Lack, who left his post as NBC News president last year, and Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, who stepped down earlier this year. He was not among the anchors headlining much of MSNBC’s coverage of the off-year elections last week, as those spots went to Maddow, Nicolle Wallace and Joy Reid. NBC News’ streaming service NBC News Now also featured election coverage, but with Chuck Todd and Kristen Welker.
Williams’ departure comes amid a push by networks to bolster their streaming channels, and his exit quickly triggered speculation of his possible options. CNN plans to launch its subscription streaming service, CNN+, in the first quarter of next year, and hired Kasie Hunt away from NBC News and MSNBC to headline a daily show for the new venture. Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, sought to hire Maddow for the service at $20 million a year, according to Puck News.
Here is Jones’ memo in full:
After nearly three decades as an award-winning journalist and anchor at MSNBC and NBC News, Brian Williams has informed us he would like to take the coming months to spend time with his family. He will be signing off from The 11th Hour at the end of the year.
Brian’s time at NBC has been marked by breaking countless major stories, attracting leading journalists and guests to his programs, and most especially, great resiliency. He has built a fiercely loyal following for The 11th Hour and we and our viewers will miss his penetrating questions and thoughtful commentary.
Please join me in expressing our deep gratitude for 28 years of devoted service to our viewers and wishing him the very best.
Ted Johnson contributed to this report.
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