According to a report by CNN Money, NBCUniversal is currently deciding the fate of its longtime anchor Brian Williams following his six-month suspension for making inaccurate claims about being shot down while he was embedded with troops in Iraq.
Consistent with a network known for making shrewd, widely popular personnel decisions, the Peacock is weighing its options carefully. One choice would be starting the careful process of integrating Brian Williams back into NBC Nightly News. This would presumably begin with a Tonight Show appearance where Williams would offer a prepared apology, and feature in SNL skits mocking his storytelling abilities. Over time, Williams might work his way back up from reporter to special correspondent, fill-in host, and so on. Of course, this strategy doesn’t take into account the feelings and hard work of Lester Holt, who replaced Williams with a low-key approach that has arguably minimized his predecessor’s damage to Nightly News’ reputation.
Another option would be to buy Williams out of his contract, making the problem go away and guaranteeing his silence. This approach wouldn’t come cheap, costing the network up to $50 million. It would also turn Williams into a free agent, allowing another outlet to profit from the celebrity he built while at NBC.
Instead, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack has tasked his organization with trying to come up with a creative solution that could retain Williams in a “new role.” This is in keeping with NBC’s tradition of being willing to jeopardize programming quality for the greater good of pleasing its top-shelf talent. Neither Williams nor NBC are commenting about this latest rumor, but it’s exciting to speculate how Williams and the network might rethink the evening news format in the face of increasing competition from cable news and new media. Brian Williams could bring gravitas to the long-dormant position of “Opera Man” correspondent, or NBC could adopt an anchor team model, with Williams playing Ron Burgundy to Holt’s Veronica Corningstone. Or perhaps we might get a new closing segment, with the former anchor punching up the previous half-hour of news with Williams’ panache, storytelling instincts, and ear for embellishment opportunities.
These are the questions that NBC must ask. How do you move forward with a high-profile personality who has media recognition, but is no longer suited to perform his primary function? How do you solve a problem like Brian Williams? How do you catch a moonbeam in your hand?