Just in case you thought that the Brian Williams story was going to fade quietly into the pages of history, fear not. Things have quieted down for NBC News lately with their disgraced anchor off the air and the media-slamming spotlight fixed on ABC and their Generous George problem, but Williams’ “suspension” is due to be over before too long and a decision is going to have to be made. That’s got the folks at NBC thinking outside the box and scrambling for a solution.
Weeks of complex negotiations between Williams and NBC are not yet complete, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
There are any number of possible outcomes. Several of the sources said Williams could end up leaving NBC altogether following a financial settlement. But another possibility, and the one advanced in recent discussions, involves a new role for Williams.
Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News, has been a proponent of this outcome.
“Andy’s contorting to figure out a way to keep Brian,” one of the sources said.
One of the sources described employee meetings where Lack asked attendees to “think creatively” about a new role for Williams.
I’m not sure what sort of creative thinking is going on, but none of the options under discussion sound like they’re going to make anyone (say nothing of everyone) happy. Having Williams show up during some special production and offer yet another apology doesn’t seem like it’s going to move the needle much. What more could he say than he’s already offered up multiple times in the painful weeks of slow walking his departure? Nobody seems to be even hinting that he could go directly back to his old chair after the hits that NBC has taken to their credibility. And this idea of making him some sort of “anchor at large” doing reports from the field or a hidden media fortress of solitude just sounds like he would be a sad reminder to the viewers of all the things his bosses would like to forget.
Cutting ties entirely, however, carries some other costs to the network, either directly or indirectly. If they try to discharge him for cause and simply show him the door, Williams will immediately become a prime candidate for the late night circuit and could begin trashing his old network relentlessly. (That’s not to say that he would, but who knows how anyone will react under that kind of pressure?) The other option is to pay him off as a nice retirement gift to keep him in a better mood. That may be the only viable course of action, since Williams allegedly had a fresh five year contract in hand worth something in the range of $10M per year. In a court action, he might get a fair piece of that anyway even as he went around saying how NBC News had thrown him under the bus.
If I had to make a prediction at this point, I would guess that the last option is the way they’ll go. Additional face time for Williams may just rip the scabs off some wounds where the poison is still running too deep. They can probably afford to pay off his contract without going broke and he’ll still have a fabulous career writing some books and doing expensive speaking engagements if he needs to keep busy. The only fly in the ointment for this forecast is if Williams’ ego is so large that he truly feels he’s been railroaded for no reason and insists on a return to the news game. In that event, look for things to get awkward on the Peacock Network.