Brian Williams will be permanently pulled from the anchor chair of NBC Nightly News but will remain with the network, anchoring breaking news for MSNBC. Lester Holt, who has been filling in for Williams since his suspension in February, has been named anchor of Nightly News, making him just the fourth solo anchor in the program's 45-year history following in the footsteps of John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw and Williams. (When Nightly News launched in 1970, Chancellor, David Brinkley and Frank McGee anchored in a rotation.)
"This is an enormous honor," Holt said in a statement. "The respect and admiration I have for the Nightly News team has only grown deeper over the last several months that we've been together. I'm very proud and grateful to be part of such an unflappable and dedicated team of professionals as we move forward together."
As for Williams, in addition to anchoring breaking news for MSNBC, he also will anchor special reports for NBC News when Holt is not available. Williams sat down for an interview with Matt Lauer which will air tomorrow on the Today show.
"I will greatly miss working with the team on Nightly News," Williams said in a statement, "but I know the broadcast will be in excellent hands with Lester Holt as anchor. I will support him 100% as he has always supported me." This is a return to MSNBC for Williams who was the first "main" anchor for the network fronting The News with Brian Williams from 1996-2002.
Williams, who'd just signed on for another five years with NBC Nightly News in December, saw his job come to an abrupt end a month later when it was revealed he had been fabricating stories about his coverage during the early days of the Iraq War. NBC says an "extensive review found that Williams made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field."
"This matter has been extensively analyzed and deliberated on by NBC," NBCU CEO Steve Burke says. "We are moving forward."
For the most part, Holt has held the audience, but the show continues to lose viewers, a trend that began more than a year ago. ABC World News with Diane Sawyer won the May 2014 sweeps among adults 25-54 for the first time in more than six years. When David Muir took over in September, World News Tonight continued to lead among younger viewers. Then, in late March, ABC overtook NBC among total viewers for the first time in seven years. It's been back and forth since.
In addition to ratings challenges, the three evening newscasts have not returned to pre-recession advertising revenue levels. According to Kantar Media, there has been a 4 percent drop in ad spending from 2005 to 2014—$481.3 million to $462.2 million—and advertisers spend almost equally on the three newscasts. Nightly News had a slight lead in 2014 with a 35 percent share, leaving ABC and CBS only slightly behind, Kantar found.
Holt, who joined NBC in 2000 as an anchor on MSNBC, will also become the first African-American man to solo anchor a nightly news broadcast. Max Robinson was the first African-American evening news anchor, when, from 1978-1983, he co-anchored ABC's World News Tonight in a three-city rotation: Frank Reynolds in New York, Peter Jennings in London and Robinson in Chicago.
Holt moved to NBC News in 2003 as co-anchor of Weekend Today following the death of David Bloom. In 2007, he added the weekend editions of Nightly News to his plate and, since 2011, has been anchor of Dateline NBC.