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Andy Lack Returns to NBC—Can Couric Be Far Behind?

Katie Couric [1]

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke is betting that the hiring of former NBC News president Andy Lack can reverse the news division’s sliding fortunes and return it to the same level of success it achieved during Lack’s initial tenure. He will serve as the chairman for both NBC News and MSNBC.

Lack’s previous stint at NBC News ran from 1993 through 2001 and overlapped with Katie Couric’s time at Today—a period that saw the show rise to become the number one morning program in America. Lack and Couric developed a special relationship during that time and the rumors are swirling that Lack will try and bring Couric back in some capacity, since her contract with Yahoo News allows her to pursue other opportunities. And Couric’s career could use a boost after a disastrous stint as the CBS Evening News anchor and a failed daytime television talk show.

While adding Couric in some capacity to the Today show would probably boost the ratings, it most likely wouldn’t be enough to help the show overtake Good Morning America and reclaim the top spot. That would require greater changes, which will take some time for Lack to implement. Lack is also facing a difficult decision as to what to do with former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who was caught lying about his experience aboard a U.S. helicopter in Iraq and is currently suspended from the network. Williams renewed his contract in December, so Lack will have to weigh whether the money owed to Williams is worth bringing him back at a cost to the network’s credibility.

Lack’s hiring does bring into question exactly how long NBC News president Deborah Turness and MSNBC president Phil Griffin will keep their jobs. Turness has been in charge during the aforementioned problems at NBC News, while Griffin has overseen a multi-year decline at MSNBC and seems incapable of fixing the problems of a network that is fast descending into a ratings black hole.

Expect some major changes ahead once Lack settles in to his new job.

Read the memo from NBCUniveral CEO Steve Burke on Lack’s hiring:

I want to let you know about some changes we are making within the NBCUniversal News Group. Andy Lack is returning to the company as Chairman, NBC News and MSNBC. Andy will join our Executive Committee and report directly to me. He will begin in April.

Pat Fili-Krushel, who has been one of my most trusted advisors since she joined NBCUniversal four years ago, will move into a new corporate role on my executive team.

Andy is an accomplished journalist who began his award-winning news career in 1976 at CBS and rose through the newsroom ranks until he joined NBC News as President in 1993. While at NBC, he presided over the News division’s unprecedented rise to number one, led by “Today,” “Nightly News,” “Dateline” and “Meet the Press.”

In 2001 Andy was promoted to President and COO of NBC, where he was responsible for news, entertainment, TV stations, MSNBC and CNBC. Andy’s executive leadership also includes six years as CEO and Chairman of the Bloomberg Media Group, before leaving in September of 2014 to assume his most recent position as CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Prior to that, he was CEO and Chairman of Sony Music Entertainment.

Andy’s experience and familiarity with our company and specifically the news division will be critical to our growth and future success. Deborah Turness, President of NBC News and Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC will both report to Andy. Mark Hoffman, President of CNBC, and Andy will work closely to ensure that where appropriate CNBC will leverage the strength of the News Group portfolio. Mark will continue on the Executive Committee and report to me. All of Pat’s other direct reports will report to Andy.

When we created the News Group in 2011, I asked Pat to run it in order to maximize the combined strength of our portfolio as audiences fundamentally change the way they consume news. In that time Pat has helped position the organization for future growth by integrating television and digital, creating innovative partnerships, and modernizing the tools and technology we use to gather and deliver news. As she approaches three years in the role, I have asked Pat to return to my team and work directly with me again as she did before she took on her news responsibilities. I am grateful to Pat for her work and accomplishments at the NBCUniversal News Group and for helping to identify Andy as her successor. I look forward to having her back on the 51st floor.

Please join me in welcoming Andy back to our company and in thanking Pat.