NBC’s Lester Holt Talks Balancing Dateline, Nightly News Gigs

By Brian Flood 

You may have seen our new video series Out to Lunch, as we have already debuted an episode with FNC’s Bill Hemmer. The second edition, with CNN’s Don Lemon, has been taped and is coming soon. We’re working on NBC News’ Lester Holt for the third installment (the man has a busy schedule), but in the meantime we caught up with the Nightly News anchor and Dateline host for 5 Questions.

Tonight’s Dateline NBC features a new report by Holt on the situation surrounding Johnny Hincapie, who was imprisoned for 25 years for his alleged role in the 1990 stabbing death of a Utah tourist, Brian Watkins, on a subway platform. A judge recently overturned his conviction based on new evidence challenging his presence at the crime scene, and his contention that his confession to the crime was coerced by a detective.

TVNewser: Did you ever consider walking away from Dateline when you became the permanent anchor of Nightly News?

Holt: Naturally when I took on Nightly News I reviewed all of my roles and work responsibilities as well as my personal commitments. Dateline is very special to me, and if anything, now that I am on a weekday schedule I’m finding I’m able to go out and report more of the hours (like this Friday’s program) in addition to hosting.

TVNewser: Has it been difficult to balance both shows?

Holt: The beauty of long-form news is that you often have the luxury of scheduling interviews and tapings well in advance. The producers are mindful of my Nightly News responsibilities and have made it as easy as possible to balance the two jobs. On occasion I will admit, it can mean a pretty tight window to fly back and forth somewhere for an interview and make it back to 30 Rock in time for Nightly.

TVNewser: You’re clearly passionate about the Hincapie case and it’s being advertised as a report “four years in the making.” What can viewers expect tonight?

Holt: Producer Dan Slepian has been working this story for four years. I began working on it about a year ago. What makes this story different than others about questionable convictions, is that there was no DNA or scientific evidence that conclusively proves his guilt or innocence, and so the viewer will have a lot to consider as they weigh whether Johnny Hincapie took part in the crime. This story revolves around the murder of Brian Watkins, a young tourist on a New York City subway platform. We view this case through the prism of 1990, when New York was plagued by violent crime and there was enormous pressure on police and the mayor’s office to do something.

TVNewser: Did you find yourself rooting for Hincapie to be released after getting to know him?

Holt: I found myself intrigued with the new evidence and witness accounts in Mr. Hincapie’s case. They certainly bolstered his claim that he wasn’t on the subway platform at the time of the attack. As in all stories, we took this one where the events and facts led us. I was impressed with Mr. Hincapie as a person, however do not take a position on his guilt or innocence, nor did I root for a particular outcome. The Manhattan DA will decide soon whether to retry him. I am mindful of the pain the Watkins family has endured, and what I root for is that justice will be properly served on behalf of all those affected by this tragedy.

TVNewser: What will you be doing when the show airs tonight? Be honest…

Holt: Dateline has a very active social media following and I will probably be reading some of the comments and chats during the broadcast, and where appropriate, may respond to some.