Comcast made it official today that veteran network news executive Andy Lack is being brought in at age 67 to try and save a news division at NBC that is in as much trouble as any news operation I've ever seen.
I think it's a good move by Comcast, which has proved that it knows next to nothing about owning and operating a national news operation. In fact, it is one of the first big moves by Comcast that I agree with when it comes to news.
The network that only two years ago was Number One in mornings with "Today," and early evenings with "NBC Nightly News," is now in second-place to ABC's "Good Morning America" and about to be overtaken in key demographics by ABC's "World News Tonight."
Furthermore, Brian Williams, the highest-priced anchor on network TV, is serving a six-month suspension for serial lying about his career -- and his return is anything but a given, even with Lack now back in control.
Andrew Tyndall, founder of the "Tyndall Report," the most comprehensive daily chronicle of network news, is one analyst betting against Williams' return.
"I still expect Williams not to come back," Tyndall said earlier this week when asked if he thought Lack's return guaranteed another chance for Williams.
"Just think of all the other problems Lack has to solve," Tydall continued. "The problem of the 'Nightly News' is pretty low down his list of things to do. I mean, he's got a mess at MSNBC. The problem at MSNBC is infinitely worse than the problem at 'Nightly News.'"
And second to MSNBC, according to Tyndall, are the problems at the "Today" show, where the slip from first to second has meant tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
"Getting 'Today' back to the Number One spot" has to be Lack's second biggest concern, Tyndall said.
"So, 'Nightly' going along as it is now - either marginally in first place or only just a little behind in second - that's a problem for another day compared to MSNBC, especially if it continues this way and you realize how much money you could save without Williams' contract," he said.
Tyndall is right about the network news template having shifted with Scott Pelley and David Muir away from expensive, big-name anchors. It's been one month since Williams was benched and Lester Holt has basically held the audience he inherited. Why bring Williams - with his big contract and a social-media world full of younger viewers mocking his dishonesty - back in five more months if the ratings hold?
Tyndall is also right about MSNBC: The cable channel owned by Comcast and run by NBC News has imploded. The hard left-wing ideological road that President Phil Griffin drove MSNBC down has led to plummeting ratings and pathetic revenue figures for a channel of its size and potential. Editorially it is an absolute embarrassment.
In terms of management style, Lack's a hotdog who has made as many bad moves as good ones, but he does know how to run a national news operation, and he at least knows the right things to say about journalism - whether or not he believes them. I don't think he will be hiring Chelsea Clinton and saying it's as if she's been preparing her whole life for a job as a special correspondent, as former NBC News president Steve Capus did.
First prediction: Look for Griffin to soon be gone from MSNBC - unless Lack wants to be seen as a news executive who thinks hiring Al Sharpton and Ronan Farrow were good moves for a cable news channel to make.
Here's how NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke characterized Lacks' career in his note to staffers announcing Lack as the new chairman of NBC News and MSNBC:
Andy is an accomplished journalist who began his award-winning news career in 1976 at CBS and rose through the newsroom ranks until he joined NBC News as President in 1993.
While at NBC, he presided over the News division’s unprecedented rise to number one, led by “Today,” “Nightly News,” “Dateline” and “Meet the Press.” In 2001 Andy was promoted to President and COO of NBC, where he was responsible for news, entertainment, TV stations, MSNBC and CNBC.
Andy’s executive leadership also includes six years as CEO and Chairman of the Bloomberg Media Group, before leaving in September of 2014 to assume his most recent position as CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Prior to that, he was CEO and Chairman of Sony Music Entertainment.
The job announced today is by far the toughest assignment of Lack's career.