When you're No. 1, you might not have to worry as much, but Brian Williams isn't about to gamble.
Especially with Charles Gibson's recent ascension at "ABC World News" and Katie Couric's imminent "CBS Evening News" debut, top-rated "NBC Nightly News" anchor and managing editor Williams is keenly aware of the current state of the dinner-hour rivalry for viewers among the broadcast networks.
"That there is all this talk about the time slot and this competition can only be good," says the winner of four Emmys and (for his Hurricane Katrina coverage) a Peabody Award. "It makes us better. It keeps us on our game. Here we are, about to enter a great new era of these three network evening newscasts."
And while the competition is serious, it's also amiable, Williams insists.
"I shared a plane ride with Charlie Gibson back from Tel Aviv," he says. "We both rushed to the studio, did our separate broadcasts. These people are friends. At the end of the day, Katie is a mother of two. I'm a father of two. I've known Charlie for a long time, and that side of our business exists, too. I'm happy to see them and spend time with them when we're together, just like the three who preceded us."
Indeed, Williams likes evoking memories of the camaraderie among ABC's Peter Jennings, CBS' Dan Rather and NBC's Tom Brokaw while they vied for the news-watching audience. After Brokaw left the NBC anchor desk in fall 2004, Williams went up against the other two men.
"A good friend of mine said, after Dan left and after we lost Peter, 'That you are the veteran of this group of three is like saying the Empire State Building is the tallest building on the New York City skyline. It is factually true, but it's for all the wrong reasons.' And I wish, looking at the underlying reasons, that it wasn't so."
Still, Williams has brought his own touch to the job, contemporizing it considerably with his dedication to the Internet age. His behind-the-scenes postings under the title "The Daily Nightly" (dailynightly.msnbc.com) recently added a video component.
"It's like having a daily deadline working at a local paper," Williams says. "This is a deadline I was not looking to add to my day, to be perfectly candid."
The idea came from veteran television news executive Jeff Gralnick, and Williams says he has come to appreciate what the extra reportage might mean to young people who are thinking of getting into the news business.
"If Cronkite [or] if Huntley and Brinkley had given me a window into the practices and procedures of their newsrooms' decision-making processes, it would have been like catnip."
Beyond "NBC Nightly News," Williams' frankness and wit also have made him a popular talk-show guest. In a time of major unrest in the Middle East and the ongoing military campaign in Iraq, he remains extremely focused on what he discusses and how he discusses it.
"I've got to watch the words, the journalism in the half-hour," he allows. "I had to address it on my blog. I gave a statement about fairness and balance, because we're getting killed by incoming e-mails on both sides. I said in effect to our readers and viewers, 'Please judge us on the overall body of our work. This is the work of humans, but we're also professionals.'"Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times