Will Andy Lack Save Brian Williams, Or Handle His Exit?

By Mark Joyella 

Andy Lack starts at NBC, officially, in April. That leaves very little time to resolve one of the most pressing puzzles in his new/old job: what about Brian? The suspended “Nightly News” anchor–if his punishment remains in effect as before, at six months–would be available for a return to work this summer. Will he? And if he does, how would that work, exactly?

Is Lack Williams’ savior, as some have suggested–“Andy Lack wouldn’t come back without Brian,” a source told the New York Post. “This is all about saving Brian.” Or is Lack’s return something far bigger — rebuilding a damaged news division, and an on-the-ropes newschannel he created — even if that means the graceful and delicate departure of a damaged star?

Lack and Williams go way back, to the days when Williams was groomed and ultimately chosen for the marquee job in the news division. But even the most enduring relationships can prove remarkably brittle in the business of television–especially in TV news when the issue becomes all about truth, and trust.

“We have all watched the evening news descend another step toward irrelevance, when NBC’s chief anchorman Brian Williams was forced to step down for six months,” said Marvin Kalb at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy this week. To Kalb, Williams is no Murrow. “He’s a terrific storyteller. He loves to spin a yarn.” And Kalb doesn’t see Williams returning this summer.

Williams carries with him the self-inflicted wound of his own storytelling, but also the compounded damage done by how Williams was handled by NBC’s just-upended leadership. Andy Lack may not get to make the final call on Williams, but the NBCU/Comcast bosses clearly believe if anybody can find a way to get Brian back on the desk or out the door without further damaging the NBC News brand, it’s Andy.