Brian Williams does not want to host the evening news at CBS. He’s made that clear.
CBS has made Williams two separate contract offers, including a deal that’d make him the anchor of CBS Evening News in place of Norah O’Donnell. But Williams has turned down both offers, according to CNN Business.
There’s a lot going on here, and the future of CBS News, Williams and O’Donnell all remain unclear.
Williams declined to re-sign with MSNBC at the end of 2021, making him a free agent in the news industry. Williams’ attorney, Bob Barnett, has spoken with at least CNN, ABC and CBS about potential roles for Williams.
When NBC demoted Williams from NBC Nightly News to a role on MSNBC in 2015, industry experts thought it signaled the end for Williams as a prominent newscaster. So to see a network offer him a spot back anchoring evening news is eye-opening. And yet, Williams isn’t interested.
Nightly news programs on NBC, ABC and CBS remain successful in the ratings, topping primetime programs in cable news. Yet the three combine for less buzz than a CNN show at 3 pm ET. Straight newscasts are a dying breed, as Dan Abrams explained to OutKick recently. That’s one reason Williams declined.
Williams was also unhappy working a late-night schedule at MSNBC, hosting the 11th Hour five nights a week. And at 62, returning to anchor at 6:30 pm five days a week on a reduced salary probably isn’t appealing to Williams.
Williams made $10 million annually at MSNBC — CBS would not pay him that. Williams likely won’t get that salary anywhere, making the streaming route more appealing.
Finally, he has told people close to him that he wants a show that allows him to share more of his personality. Though not everyone finds Williams funny, he thinks he is. And a broadcast network hardly permits a host to smirk.
I suspect Williams will consider CNN+ for a soft schedule and an open format. CNN plans to offer other current television hosts roles on CNN+. Chris Wallace was just the first domino to fall.
Meanwhile, CBS News has mulled over removing O’Donnell from its evening newscasts for months. CBS News, now under new management, wants to slash O’Donnell’s $8 million salary and move Evening News from Washington DC to New York. O’Donnell does not want to move back to New York, and no one wants to take a pay cut. So even though Williams turned down the offer, O’Donnell’s future at CBS remains in doubt. If CBS parts ways with O’Donnell, look for the network to consider Mornings co-host Tony Dokoupil. Dokoupil is 40 and could host Evening News at close to his current salary of $2 million.
As you can see from all this drama, there is a need for an evening newscast to cover the news industry. And it starts with Brian Williams, a man who is in demand — though we can’t figure out why.