The parent company of NBC, Comcast, has turned to a familiar figure to lead the network’s troubled news division, naming Andrew Lack as chairman to shore up its credibility, its finances and its stability.
The appointment follows the scandal that led to the suspension of chief anchor Brian Williams, who inflated the dangers he faced while covering the invasion of Iraq. It is not clear whether Williams will return. In addition, the network has struggled to set a clear course for the Today Show and Meet the Press, both of which have yielded their status as top-rated shows in recent years.
Friday’s announcement was made by Comcast executive and NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke. Lack will oversee both NBC News and its sister cable channel, MSNBC. He is replacing Pat Fili-Krushel, who will be shifted to another corporate role under Burke. MSNBC has recently canceled two fairly new shows and is reviewing the extent to which it will hold onto its liberal political orientation in light of its foundering ratings.
NBC News President Deborah Turness will hold onto her job, despite criticism of her handling of Williams. Given Lack’s experience in news and personal ties to many prominent journalists at NBC and elsewhere, however, his appointment will necessarily diminish her role. Fili-Krushel had no prior experience in news.
Lack first arrived at NBC in 1993 as news president after an earlier journalistic scandal. He had a triumphant run, with NBC News programs enjoying resounding ratings successes, and became network president in 2001. Later, he held top roles at Sony, Bloomberg News and, most recently, the federal Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Marti and other U.S. government broadcasters. Lack’s tenure at the BBG lasted all of six weeks, as the scope of NBC’s crisis became apparent and the network turned again to a trusted hand.
His arrival has already prompted industry speculation that it could foreshadow the return of other journalists well known at NBC — Williams and even former Today Show host Katie Couric, who left to anchor the CBS Evening News. Lack is seen as a consummate handler of the talented and often complicated personalities who draw in millions of viewers. Both the Today Show and the NBC Nightly News have embraced a mix of lighter news as NBC has entered a kind of TV death match with ABC News. Good Morning America is now the nation’s top-rated morning show, and the network hopes to challenge NBC for dominance in the evening, as well, with its telegenic new anchor David Muir on World News Tonight.
Lack will begin his old new job in April. There will be no shortage of troubles demanding his attention.