Lester Holt Could Flip ‘Audition’ Into a Permanent Gig at NBC Nightly News

With Brian WIlliams out for six months, observers says that Holt would need to sustain the ratings for the highest-rated evening news program in order to clinch the deal.

Lester Holt
Lester Holt NBC News screenshot

Some Say Time Is Right for NBC News Workhorse

Lester Holt, who is sitting in the anchor chair of “NBC Nightly News” for the next six months after the suspension of anchor and managing editor Brian Williams, will initially be working seven days a week, an NBC official told Journal-isms on Wednesday.

Holt, the all-purpose substitute at NBC News, will continue this week to anchor “Dateline” on Friday, and anchor both “Weekend Today” and the weekend “NBC Nightly News,” the official, who did not want to be further identified, said by telephone. Holt’s workload henceforth has yet to be determined, the official said.

Holt told “Nightly News” viewers Wednesday what most already knew.

“About halfway through the broadcast, Holt followed a piece about snow in Boston by saying, ‘Now to the story many of you are talking about tonight and one that not only hits close to home but in our home,’ ” Holt said, Matt Wilstein reported for Mediaite. “He went on to announce Williams’ suspension and read statements from NBC News president Deborah Turness and NBC Universal Chairman Steve Burke, before offering some thoughts of his own.

” ‘If I may, on a personal note say, it’s an enormously difficult story to report,’ Holt said. ‘Brian is a member of our family, but so are you, our viewers. We will work every night to be worthy of your trust.’ “

Wilstein continued, Williams’ “supposedly temporary departure from the anchor desk has left Holt with an ‘enormously difficult’ task. He has not been named as Williams’ permanent replacement, but is being tasked with restoring the trust the long-time anchor squandered for NBC News with his actions. . . .”

Holt was initially ignored in the first wave of coverage during the Williams scandal, in which Williams admitted exaggerating his role in a helicopter incident in Iraq. Media writers and watchers began to assess him as it became apparent that he would be sitting in the anchor chair of the most highly rated evening news program for six months — and maybe longer.

Consider the next six months an audition for Lester Holt, the weekend anchor who will now substitute for Williams in his absence,‘ ” Politico’s Dylan Byers wrote Tuesday night, after the announcement of Williams’ suspension. “Meanwhile, the execs at Comcast/NBC will be hard at work considering an alternative replacement if Holt can’t sustain the ratings. Possible anchors include both Today show co-hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. . . .”

David Bauder, media writer for the Associated Press, agreed Wednesday that viewership will be key. “With ‘Nightly News’ atop the ratings for almost all of Williams’ decade-long tenure as its lead anchor — and back into the 1990s with Tom BrokawHolt will be watched closely to see if he can maintain that lead,” Bauder wrote. “If he can, that may lessen NBC’s desire to bring back a more costly anchor with doubts cast on his trustworthiness.”