The Real Brian Williams is a Talk Show Host

NBC’s Brian Williams, officially deposed from the anchor chair on NBC Nightly News, will be picking up some news-related duties on MSNBC.

I’d rather see Williams co-hosting a semi-serious late night show with now-retired David Letterman, along with regular guest appearances by Tom Hanks and Steve Martin.

Is demotion to MSNBC a suitable punishment for Williams’s Crimes Against Journalism?

My friend, the TV historian Wally Podrazik, called my attention to a Washington Post article that compares Williams’s crimes to other journalistic misdeeds.

► Why don’t more journalists face the music like NBC’s Brian Williams?

Says reporter Paul Farhi:

George Stephanopoulos, Bill O’Reilly, Fareed Zakaria, the gang at Rolling Stone magazine — all have faced Williams-like turns in the barrel. And all have emerged perhaps chastened but very much steady as they go.

Of the transgressions recounted by Farhi, I believe the Rolling Stone article is 100 times worse than all of the others. Neither Brian nor Bill told stories that screwed up the reputation of people or institutions. The Rolling Stone article was a mess and a bunch of people should have been fired because of it.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of irony in the Williams story.

First, everybody is saying Williams was “demoted” to MSNBC. The fact that people think it’s a rat hole should be much more worrisome to NBC than whatever Williams did.

Second, in the recent interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Williams says something about realizing in retrospect that while he carried the mantle of “NBC Nightly News Anchor” during the broadcast itself, when he left the studio and headed over to David Letterman’s set he was a different person, or forgot that he had the most prestigious job in America or whatever.

Who is the real Brian Williams?

So…compare Brian on Nightly News with Brian on Letterman. Who is the real Brian Williams?

I suggest that the Letterman Brian Williams is the truth, while the NBC anchor desk version of Brian Williams with his white handkerchief in the vest pocket — that was an act, and a pretty good one, too.

The proof is that while on Letterman’s show, Williams thought he could relax and say whatever he wanted to say. His performance on Nightly News was no less scripted than a lead part in a Broadway play where the actor is playing someone other than himself.

That’s what NBC strives to deliver to the public.

But how much of the public? Let’s round up all the people who have written about Williams in the past six months and ask if they actually watch the Nightly News. Do you?

I happen to like Brian Williams. Who’s to say if he is a true journalist? The output of Nightly News is the product of a lot of people. Did he slant the news? Did he swing the tide of a war the way Walter Cronkite did?

(Slanting, of course, is the job of MSNBC. So maybe they’ll encourage him to exaggerate his stories.)

Give Brian Williams a talk show

If Letterman un-retires, wouldn’t you like to see him doing a talk show — focused on serious conversation with a big dose of humor — along with Brian Williams? Let’s add Tom Hanks and Steve Martin, too, with a good guest list. For those of us who fondly remember Tom Snyder and the late-night interview show Bob Costas did for a while, a Williams-Letterman fest would fill a void.

Talk show or not, as with Letterman and the sexual misconduct that would have gotten anybody else fired and eviscerated by the public, Williams is too big of a talent to let go.

With any luck, when he gets to MSNBC he’ll resurrect that short-lived show called Rock Center. He’ll build some kind of an audience and it will include me.

At some point a big, gripping national story will break. Lester will put in his 12 hours on the anchor desk. When he goes home for nap, Brian will happen to be in the studio and suddenly he’ll be subbing at the anchor desk for Lester. The network viewers will remember that they liked Brian, and they’ll forget why he was demoted and that’s that.

Just ask Marv Albert.

1 Comment


    Seems there’s agreement with you. One speculation suggested for NBC’s retaining Williams is that the alternative was seeing the former anchor as a talk show host for the competition.

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