Brian Williams knew days of ‘top billing’ were over pre-NBC exit

Brian Williams quit MSNBC following the departure of his two biggest backers — and realizing his days of “top billing” were over.

The longtime news anchor — whose career was tainted by his high-profile lying scandal — announced Tuesday night that he will leave NBC News after nearly three decades when his contract expires next month.

With network lynchpin Rachel Maddow set to take her evening show weekly next year and Kasie Hunt now on CNN, one TV source said, “MSNBC now has a staffing hole.” 

Things were “disrupted” for Williams, who currently hosts “The 11th Hour,” when NBC News President Andy Lack left in May 2020 and MSNBC President Phil Griffin left in December 2020.

A senior MSNBC source said: “Brian’s main rabbi was Andy Lack and when he left that disrupted things for Brian. When Phil left, that aggravated things further. In many ways, it was clear to Brian that he could not chart a course with the network.”

Brian Williams
Brian Williams announced he will leave NBC News after nearly three decades next month.
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Rashida Jones stepped into Griffin’s role, while Lack’s shoes were filled by Cesar Conde.

“Brian just doesn’t have the same relationships with the new regime,” said the source. “And there’s been tension around how he’s been featured on big political nights, like election nights. He was used to having top billing from his time at NBC News, and it went to more emergent players like Rachel Maddow, Nicolle Wallace and Joy Reid.

“This all impacted on his decision to leave.”

Williams has said that he wants to spend more time with his family and work on new projects.

Rachel Maddow
MSNBC star Rachel Maddow signed a new deal in August which will see her move her show weekly.
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

His departure adds to bigger problems with talent for MSNBC.

Maddow — MSNBC’s biggest ratings earner — signed a new deal in August to stay with the network. But she’s being paid big money to work less and will take her daily 9 p.m. show weekly, according to sources.

As Business Insider reported, Maddow signed a new multi-year deal with MSNBC’s parent NBCUniversal.

Nicolle Wallace
Nicolle Wallace is one of MSNBC’s rising stars given prominence on big nights in politics.
Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

While she’ll continue to host “The Rachel Maddow Show” for the time being, it will come to an end sometime next year, leaving Maddow free to produce other TV and film projects.

The source said this has been a headache for Jones, adding: “It’s been rough going in these early days on the job for Rashida. With  Rachel and Brian, what kind of stamp are Rashida and Cesar going to put on MSNBC?” as another TV insider added: “Brian was still a big name and helped glue together their line-up. Their only regular big star now is Nicolle Wallace. They are going to have to poach talent from other networks.”

Joy Reid
Joy Reid speaks at the 2019 Global Citizen Festival in New York.
Getty Images

However, an NBC source said: “Rachel isn’t going anywhere. In fact, viewers will soon see her in a lot more places … While we’ll miss Brian, we have a deep roster of talent, all eager to take on additional roles.”

The consensus among those in the know is that Ali Velshi is the heir apparent for Williams’ 11 p.m. slot.

Another TV insider added, “Even though Brian’s ratings weren’t great at 11 p.m., he brought stability to the network. MSNBC needs a solid bench of talent, they need a lot of smart people and they need to be developing stars. You just can’t bring in anybody, it takes a while to develop the audience for a particular anchor.”

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