'NBC NIGHTLY NEWS' Williams awaits anchor job patiently



In the coming weeks the network will begin boosting Brian Williams' profile.
By CHUCK BARNEY
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
HOLLYWOOD -- He is the heir to the throne, or, in this case, the anchor chair. But the exact date when Brian Williams takes over for Tom Brokaw on "NBC Nightly News" is still anyone's guess.
"It's not a big red 'X' on a corporate calendar, that's for sure," Williams said during a star-studded party thrown by his network. "I think it's going to be kind of a rolling date as we figure out what's comfortable and as Tom decides."
Regime change among the Big Three network anchors is a rare thing. In fact, the last time one happened was in 1983 when Dan Rather replaced Walter Cronkite on "The CBS Evening News." And so, when Brokaw announced last year that he's stepping down after November's presidential election, it was monumental stuff.
Industry speculation
But the fact that NBC has yet to announce a specific departure date has led to some industry speculation that the network is worried about alienating viewers by changing anchors -- especially at a time when NBC's newscast is locked in a ferocious ratings race with ABC. Peter Jennings, the ABC anchor, has even mused that NBC might have a change of heart and persuade Brokaw to stay.
But Williams, 45, scoffs at such talk. He insists he has the backing of the network and of Brokaw, the man who persuaded him to come to NBC 10 years ago. He also points out that the transition plans are already unfolding -- last Friday he stepped down as anchor of his nightly newscast on the MSNBC cable channel. And he insists there's no anxiety over the unannounced date.
"I'm a young man," he says. "Life is long."
Boosting his profile
In the coming months, NBC plans to boost Williams' profile as much as possible by having him out on the road, handling the major stories. He'll cover aspects of the presidential race and he'll be in Greece this summer for NBC's broadcast of the Olympics.
"Without question, I think we're doing this the right way," Williams said. "To suddenly burst someone on the scene and say, 'Here's your anchor,' would be a mistake. A lot of Americans have come to love Tom like a member of their family, and I hope that love is extended further."
Williams also dismisses the notion that the Big Three network newscasts are dinosaurs that will inevitably be supplanted by the Internet and cable news in a highly fragmented media landscape.
"I've been reading those obits for so long, but I remain very bullish on the genre," he said. "The network newscasts are still the largest single source of news for Americans. I've predicated my family's future on this, so talk to me in 20 years."

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