Lester Holt got a big promotion this week, though likely not in the way he hoped it would happen.
Holt, a well-known figure on NBC News for the past 15 years, will temporarily replace Brian Williams as anchor of the “NBC Nightly News.” On Tuesday, Williams was suspended for six months without pay, after executives discovered he misrepresented details of his reporting over the years.
While the evening news broadcast doesn’t carry the same ratings power as it once did, the job is still considered one of the most prestigious in television. And suddenly, Holt has become a major player in network news, going up against David Muir on ABC and Scott Pelley on CBS.
But for those paying attention, Holt, 55, has been a key player at NBC for many years as the lead anchor on “Dateline” and co-anchor of the “Today” weekend edition. (He’s also already the fill-in “Nightly News” anchor, and subbed for Williams a couple years ago when the host had knee surgery.)
Holt, who did not respond to a request for comment via NBC, made an impact quickly after he arrived at the company. After working as a news anchor for more than a decade at a Chicago CBS station, Holt got a job as a reporter at MSNBC in 2000.
His first big break? Holt describes it as lucky timing: He arrived at the relatively new cable network that summer, right around the time of the devastating Air France Concorde crash, and he happened to be an aviation expert.
“They put me on camera with the anchors, and before I knew it, the anchors had left and I was in the seat,” Holt told the New York Daily News in 2007.
After the plane crash, Holt became a true star several months later amid the frenzied George W. Bush-Al Gore presidential election recount in Florida. MSNBC endlessly covered the political cliffhanger, and ratings skyrocketed. Holt went from an hour of camera time every day to a constant presence on screen.
Newsday later declared that Holt became one of “a new set of on-screen celebs” thanks to the story that captivated the country. Entertainment Weekly nicknamed him the “Scud Stud of Election 2000,” playing off the nickname of the famed, handsome Gulf War correspondent Arthur Kent.
Holt started covering major stories around the globe, from Iraq to Lebanon to Haiti. He also would do the occasional human interest piece, such as traveling to Jamaica to discover more about his ancestry. In 2011, he landed a major network gig: Lead anchor of the network’s popular “Dateline NBC,” replacing Ann Curry, who went on to an (ill-fated) stint on the “Today” show. At the time, Page Six speculated Holt won the job over “To Catch a Predator” host Chris Hansen, who was considered for the spot until reports of his extramarital affair emerged.
“[Holt]’s a terrific anchor, he’s an excellent reporter and a great team leader — all the things you need to do to run a show,” said “Dateline” executive producer David Corvo at the time.
While Holt is a regular presence on NBC and MSNBC, he’s also game for some of the company’s lighter fare. Similar to Williams, he popped up occasionally in “30 Rock” cameos. He appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon,” and sat in with The Roots house band on bass guitar. And he won over fans by hosting Westminster Dog Show on USA, the network’s sister cable channel.
The question, of course, is whether Williams’s six-month hiatus will eventually become permanent. Back in the day, Holt expressed interest at a more permanent spot, according to the Daily News.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to anchor a weekday show someday,” Holt said.