Brian Williams unlikely to return to 'NBC Nightly News,' sources say

NBC News insiders believe executives are trying to come up for a new role for suspended anchor Brian Williams

Beleaguered anchor Brian Williams is still awaiting word about his future, but network insiders believe that it's unlikely he'll return to his desk at the "NBC Nightly News."

The troops in the news division believe that network executives are trying to come up with a new role for Williams, according to people familiar with closed-door discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly. Williams had anchored the "NBC Nightly News" since December 2004 until he was put on suspension this year.

NBC News Chairman Andy Lack told some of the network's correspondents at a recent meeting that no decision had been made about Williams' fate — leaving the door open for some other opportunity at the network.

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"They all got the impression that Brian's going to be offered another job," said one person who had been briefed on the meeting by several people in attendance.

An NBC News spokesman declined to comment beyond saying there was still no decision on Williams' future at the network.

Williams has been off the air since Feb. 7 and was suspended without pay Feb. 11 after making misstatements about his 2003 reporting on the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The network has also undertaken an internal review of his work to examine other possible discrepancies in his reporting.

Lester Holt has been in the anchor chair at "NBC Nightly News" since the controversy erupted and is expected to get the job full-time after a final call is made on Williams.

Although no one at NBC News would predict that Williams will get his job back, the idea of his returning to NBC News in a different capacity is now more of a possibility than it was when reports first surfaced several weeks ago, said another network executive who could not comment publicly on the matter.

Williams' departure from NBC also remains a possibility if the two sides can negotiate a severance package. The anchor signed a five-year deal in late 2014 that was to pay him more than $10 million annually.

But coming up with a viable plan to keep Williams at NBC News will be tricky for the company to handle politically. Williams has received little support from inside NBC News since his misfortunes began because many co-workers are outraged by the actions that led to his suspension.

Former colleagues say it's hard to imagine Williams going to the news division's cable channel MSNBC, where he toiled for years in preparation to succeed Tom Brokaw at "NBC Nightly News." The other consolation prize could be a production unit that makes documentaries or specials.

"When he's riding in the same elevator bank as everyone else, how is he going to accept going from being the top guy to being a worker bee?" said one producer who has worked with him.

Since Williams left the program, "NBC Nightly News" has fallen behind in the ratings among viewers ages 25 to 54, the audience that advertisers seek to reach with news programming.

"ABC World News Tonight With David Muir" has taken the lead in that demographic for the 2014-15 season. In overall viewers, the NBC broadcast has been neck-and-neck with ABC while Holt has been in the anchor chair. Last week, it averaged 7.6 million viewers to ABC's 7.9 million.

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