January 26, 2022
Just years ago, in 2015, the notion that Williams would be rebuffing an offer to helm one of the big three nightly news programs would have been unfathomable, the news source says. His reputation was in ruins for embellishing his stories as a journalist. He was booted from NBC Nightly News and accepted what was then a significant demotion to MSNBC.
But the tide has since turned.
Williams, who hosted the popular 11th Hour program on MSNBC during the Trump era, has largely rehabilitated his image. Now, he is in demand. And after departing NBC when his contract expired late last year, he’s a free agent for the first time in decades. That free agent status has translated into Williams fielding proposals.
One such proposal floated to him, according to three people familiar with the matter, was to anchor the CBS Evening News. According to the sources CNN spoke with, CBS News president and co-head Neeraj Khemlani recently tried to recruit Williams for the network’s flagship evening news program. Two of the sources said that Khemlani, who assumed his role less than a year ago and has been working to poach talent, tried at least twice. But it was to no avail.
Williams, the sources noted, simply isn’t interested in the evening news job—which says a lot about not only Williams’ turn-of-fortune, but also the diminishing allure of anchoring a nightly broadcast news program, once considered to be one of the most prestigious positions in journalism.
The revelation that CBS execs attempted to recruit Williams for the “Evening News” doesn’t look all too great for Norah O’Donnell, who has anchored the show since 2019 and has been unable to move the program out of its third-place position.
Publicly, the network has supported O’Donnell. When the New York Post reported in October that she was in danger of losing her anchor spot, Khemlani went on the record to the tabloid and praised O’Donnell. And on Monday, when asked about whether she will stay in the anchor chair, Khemlani lauded her ratings and said that CBS has “no current plans to change” what it is doing.
But, according to CNN, all of this begs the question: If CBS is so happy with O’Donnell, whose current contract is said to be up soon, why have they shopped her job to others?
“CBS News is overhauling its streaming news channel with a new name and a slate of programs presented by its big-name anchors that taps into the division’s legacy,” the Los Angeles Times’ Steve Battaglio wrote Monday. “The ViacomCBS unit is announcing today that the free ad-supported channel, known as CBSN since its launch in 2014, will become CBS News Streaming. It will integrate the division’s broadcast franchises into the channel—a shift in strategy, as it previously relied heavily on a cadre of lesser-known anchors.”
Two of those anchors are O’Donnell and Gayle King. “Khemlani would not comment on the contract status of King and O’Donnell, whose deals are up this year,” wrote Battaglio, who interviewed Khemlani for his story. “Their futures have been the subject of TV news industry speculation. Including them in an announcement for two high-profile shows suggests they likely will remain at the network.”
Khemlani is quoted by Battaglio, “I will tell you that Gayle and Norah and Tony Dokoupil—and anchors and reporters across the board—are showing enormous leadership in terms of contribution to the service, and they are the pace cars for the entire division,” “We’re thrilled we can tap into people of that caliber and not have separate teams across the board…”
Research contact: @CNN