Word from NBC News Chairman Andy Lack is that Brian Williams’s new 11 p.m. program on MSNBC — “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” — is “off to a nice start.”
Such judgments are always relative. As the Wrap’s Brian Flood noted last week, the show, which debuted on Sept. 6, has done poorly in the critical 25-54 demographic. Whereas Williams drew an average of 235,000 of the younger-skewing audience from Sept. 6-20, Don Lemon’s show on CNN averaged 293,000 viewers from 11:00-11:30 p.m. Their places were flipped in terms of total viewers.
In a brief chat with the Erik Wemple Blog Monday at the first presidential debate at Hofstra University, Lack noted that these are the “early, early days” of the show. “I always think of these things as works in progress,” he said, noting that “it’s driven by the news, so you hit three days where slow, a little sluggish.”
Who knows — perhaps Williams’s early showing has been depressed by his low profile in the weeks leading up to his program’s launch. As this blog noted, Williams didn’t do a single interview to hype the debut, counter to custom in the cable-news business. Instead of hopping on the phone with media reporters, he released a statement saying, in part, “We want a broadcast that will feel like a continuation of the conversation we’ve had all during this unprecedented campaign season. As the general election ramps up, there’s an opportunity to assess and discuss the campaign at the end of each day.”
The shyness has shielded Williams from having to confront again his scandal of 2015. NBC News suspended him for six months after learning about a series of exaggerations/embellishments/lies concerning his past as a reporter — a tour of shame with stopovers in Iraq, the Berlin Wall, Israel and elsewhere. As he prepared to return to work as a breaking news anchor on MSNBC, Williams sat for an interview with NBC News’s Matt Lauer, but he did not individually address all the episodes on his besmirched record. “I would like to take this opportunity to say that what has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed, has been dealt with,” said Williams, who lost his job as anchor of “NBC Nightly News.”
Monday, Lack sounded a note of accord. When asked whether Williams had left behind some unfinished business in that Lauer interview, Lack responded, “Ancient history to me.”