Brian Williams, anchor of the MSNBC nightly program “The 11th Hour,” will not sign a new contract with NBC News and will leave the company after 28 years.
Williams confirmed his planned departure in a statement to The Los Angeles Times.
“Following much reflection, and after 28 years with the company, I have decided to leave NBC upon the completion of my current contract in December,” Williams said. “I have been truly blessed. I have been allowed to spend almost half of my life with one company. NBC is a part of me and always will be.”
The exit of Williams, 62, means cable news channel MSNBC will have two high-profile stars to replace in 2022, as Rachel Maddow is expected to leave her daily program at some point during the year, although she will remain under contract with NBC News.
“Brian’s time at NBC has been marked by breaking countless major stories, attracting leading journalists and guests to his programs, and most especially, great resiliency,” said MSNBC President Rashida Jones in a statement. “He has built a fiercely loyal following for ‘The 11th Hour’ and we and our viewers will miss his penetrating questions and thoughtful commentary.”
Williams’ current deal is up next month. He had a substantial offer to stay at MSNBC but wants to take a break from the grind of a nightly live broadcast. He said he plans to spend the next several months with his family. He does not have another media job lined up.
The well-known news anchor informed his staff and the network of his decision Tuesday evening.
Williams joined MSNBC as breaking news anchor in 2015 following a scandal over misstatements he made about his experiences covering the Iraq war, which cost him the prestigious anchor position at “NBC Nightly News” he held for 10 years.
Williams’ MSNBC program “The 11th Hour” began as a nightly recap to cover the surfeit of political news during the 2016 presidential campaign. It evolved into a permanent fixture in the MSNBC lineup as Williams used his sharp wit and fluid skills as a broadcaster to lead a nightly salon of journalists, historians and pundits to chronicle the wildly unpredictable Trump White House.
“The 11th Hour” provided redemption for Williams, whose stellar TV news career nearly ended after he falsely told viewers he was in a helicopter hit by enemy fire while covering the U.S. invasion of Iraq for NBC News in 2003. The lapse, which raised questions about the veracity of his other reporting, led to his removal from “NBC Nightly News” in 2015 after having signed a new contract that paid him more than $10 million annually.
Williams joined NBC News in 1993 after toiling in local TV news. After serving as chief White House correspondent, the network
gave him a nightly newscast on MSNBC when NBC launched the channel in 1994, a move that positioned him to be the successor to Tom Brokaw on ” NBC Nightly News.”
Williams took over ” NBC Nightly News” in 2004 and kept the broadcast in first place in the evening news ratings race over the next 10 years against formidable competitors such as Diane Sawyer on ABC and Katie Couric and Scott Pelley on CBS.
A facile raconteur, Williams was a coveted guest on late-night talk shows and in 2007 became only the second TV journalist to host ” Saturday Night Live.” He played himself on the sitcom “30 Rock.”
After the falsehoods about his Iraq reporting were revealed in February 2015, Williams was suspended for six months. Following an internal investigation, executives at NBC parent Comcast found Williams was remorseful over the incident and were willing to give him a second chance, although not as anchor of its signature network newscast. Lester Holt replaced Williams on “NBC Nightly News.”
During the suspension, veteran news executive Andy Lack returned to NBC News — he had been president when Williams was first hired — and helped restore his friend’s career.
Lack made Williams an MSNBC news anchor, charged with handling extended in-studio coverage of breaking stories and special events. Williams also led the channel’s election coverage alongside Maddow.
Lack came up with the concept of “The 11th Hour” during the final months of the epic 2016 race for the White House as a way to deal with the daily surfeit of stories it generated. Williams was given a half-hour each night to summarize developments along the campaign trail at 11 p.m. Eastern — a time period when cable news typically replayed its prime-time programs and viewers headed to their local newscasts.
As cable ratings surged during the Trump years, “The 11th Hour” expanded to an hour and became a must-watch program for political junkies and the Beltway crowd, drawing more than 2 million viewers a night in 2018. Its success led to competitors CNN and Fox News providing fresh programming in the 11 p.m. hour.
As a well-known name in TV news, Williams is likely to have opportunities as the proliferation of streaming outlets has created a demand for nonfiction programming. His name has circulated in TV news circles as a possible successor to Norah O’Donnell at ” CBS Evening News,” but he has told friends he is not interested in returning to a daily anchor role.
MSNBC, which is now under Cesar Conde, the NBC News Group chairman who replaced Lack last year, will have to contend with filling two anchor chairs as cable news audiences continue to shrink in the post-Trump era. Maddow is expected to leave her prime-time program — by far the most popular on the network — in the first half of 2022, although management is holding out hope she will stay longer as she has no apparent successor.
As for filling Williams’ slot, NBC News could consider moving Shepard Smith from its business news channel CNBC. Smith, who joined CNBC from Fox News in 2020, has a nightly newscast that has been praised in the industry but does not attract a large audience on the niche network.
Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times