Williams on Nightly’s Bounce: “We Haven’t Seen These Numbers In a Long Time”

By Chris Ariens Comment

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Williams_2.12.jpgThe prince of the Peacock feels your financial pain.

“I’ve had no desire to walk into any store but a grocery store for months,” says NBC’s Brian Williams, who makes an estimated $10 million a year.

“It’s just not cool right now to be ostentatious. It doesn’t look right. It doesn’t feel right. It’s not very sensitive to all the suffering that’s happening.”

To that end, the Williams family plans to forgo a vacation in ’09. “We were going to try to get away,” he says, “but it didn’t feel right this year.”

On the up side, the lousy economy – and a new President — are doing wonders for NBC

Season-to-date, “NBC Nightly News” is averaging 9.3 million viewers – up three percent over the same period last year. It’s cracked the 10 million mark, on average, the last four weeks. Charlie Gibson’s “World News” is at 8.6 million (down two percent); and Katie Couric’s “CBS Evening News” at 6.7 million (up one percent).

Among A25-54, “Nightly” has grown 10 percent over last season, while “World News” is up 1 percent and CBS remains flat.

“It’s Back to the Future,” Williams says. “We haven’t seen these numbers in a long time.

“If we were any other industry, we’d have a trade association. Maybe in retirement I’ll run one.”

Before you apply for Social Security, Bri, how do you explain NBC’s having the largest surge?

“I’d love to say it was the result of a grand strategy. It isn’t. We’re covering the same stories and broad themes. I would like to think having a financial network [CNBC] at our disposal has helped us report on this economy every night.”

On another note, Williams supports the inclusion of HuffPost blogger Sam Stein in President Obama’s inaugural press conference last week. He even got to ask a question.

“It’s just an evolution,” says Williams, formerly NBC’s White House ace. “If you’re in that room, you’re accredited media. That stands for something. On any given day, you can be called on.

“The mainstream media will have to get used to it… The press corps changes along with the times. I’m sure the first TV correspondents were greeted with ‘harumphs’ by radio and print people.”

According to Williams, all modern-era chief executives have taken questions “from some non-traditional sources of media. From what I’ve seen of this guy [Obama], he likes a good back-and-forth.”

There was little back-and-forth last week, when Williams and four of his competitors were granted back-to-back, 10-minute access to the president.

“No one was painting this as any kind of exclusive, God knows,” Williams says. “Traditionally, an invitation to the Oval Office is not to be turned down. You go in there knowingly asking the same questions your colleagues are asking.

“It’s like getting your photo taken with Santa – quick in, quick out.”

Like all news organizations, NBC bristles at ordered time limits for interviews.

“Any time we are in negotiations with a major newsmaker about a sit-down interview, our bargaining position always starts for 60 or 90 minutes,” says Williams. “You shoot for moon and get what you can get.”