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NBC taps former exec to turn around news divisions

Andrew Lack was formerly president of NBC News in the 1990s and later chief operating officer of the network.

By
Doug G. Ware
Brian Williams prepares for a live shot during the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Photo: Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Brian Williams prepares for a live shot during the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Photo: Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, March 7 (UPI) -- It worked for Apple, Inc nearly 20 years ago. Now, NBC is hoping the recall of a former executive superstar will return the network to its glory days, amid uncertainty surrounding its news operations.

Variety reported late Friday that NBC confirmed it will bring back former news chief Andrew Lack, who presided over NBC News from 1993 to 2001.

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The New York Times reported Friday that Lack will assume his new duties in April, which will involve overseeing NBC News and MSNBC, but not CNBC.

Lack, also formerly chief operating officer for the broadcaster, oversaw some of the network's greatest triumphs during his first administration. He led the network's flagship morning program, Today, the Nightly News and the Sunday morning political talk show, Meet the Press, all firmly into their respective No. 1 spots before departing the network in 2003.

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In 2012, after a 17-year residence at the top, Today relinquished its title to ABC's Good Morning America. Meet the Press has steadily lost ground since the 2008 death of longtime host Tim Russert. And now the direction of NBC's Nightly News, once the dominant evening news program, has come into question following credibility issues about the program's anchor, Brian Williams.

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In January, Williams presented a retrospective segment involving one of his reports covering the Iraq war in 2003 -- in which he claimed to have been aboard a military Chinook helicopter that was targeted by enemy fire. Five days later, he recanted the report after it became known that Williams was not aboard the chopper that was shot, but rather one that arrived a while later -- and one that did not come under any fire at all. NBC followed the incident with an internal investigation.

Lance Reynolds, one of the soldiers aboard the chopper that came under fire, took issue with Williams' claim on a Facebook post of the Nightly News segment.

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"Sorry dude, I don't remember you being on my aircraft," Reynolds wrote on Jan. 31. "I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened. Then I remember you guys taking back off in a different flight of Chinooks from another unit and heading to Kuwait to report your 'war story' to the Nightly News."

Williams apologized for the inaccuracy on Feb. 4 in a reply on the Facebook post's thread and then later on that evening's Nightly News broadcast. On Feb. 10, he was suspended for six months without pay.

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Anchor Lester Holt has been filling in Williams' absence, and has maintained the program's ratings lead. The Nightly News averaged 9.8 million viewers during last month's ratings period -- just a few hundred thousand more than ABC's World News Tonight (9.4 million), which has made great strides in gaining viewers from the highly coveted 25-54 age group. CBS' Evening News averaged 8 million viewers.

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Lack has already turned around the network's news division once already, in 1993, when NBC was trying to rebound from a different blow to its credibility -- involving a questionable Dateline NBC report about a supposed fire hazard of General Motors pickup trucks in crashes. After the report aired, it became known that Dateline producers admitted to rigging the test crashes so they would ignite a fire. GM later sued NBC.

After leaving NBC, Lack gained further executive experience at Sony Music Entertainment, the Bloomberg Media Group and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Lack replaces Pat Fili-Krushel in the role, who will continue at NBC Universal as a member of CEO Steve Burke's executive team.

RELATED Brian Williams recants story he came under fire in Iraq

But NBC is hardly the first company to turn to a former whiz kid in an attempt to reclaim past glory.

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Now one of the leading technology companies in the world, Apple once orchestrated a similar homecoming of a former executive -- in a move that many now believe was the catalyst that allowed the company to grow into the giant it is today.

After resigning from the company in 1985, co-founder Steve Jobs was brought back to Apple in 1996 and subsequently spearheaded the launch of some of the company's most popular and revolutionary products -- chief among them, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.

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