03/03/2015 12:24 EST | Updated 05/03/2015 05:59 EDT

Troubled NBC News turning to its former chief for help

NEW YORK, N.Y. - NBC Universal is in talks to bring back Andrew Lack to its troubled news operation, which would be the first high-level shake-up following several rough months culminating in the six-month suspension of "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams for misleading viewers about his experiences covering the Iraq War.

An executive at NBC Universal who spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a personnel matter said that if an agreement was reached, Lack, a veteran executive who ran NBC's news division from 1993 to 2001, would return in a lead role at the NBC News Group, which includes NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC.

NBC Universal spokesman Mark Kornblau declined to comment on the negotiations, first reported in Variety on Tuesday. A spokesman at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which Lack currently runs, did not immediately return a call for comment.

It would mark Lack's second time returning to NBC News at a time of trouble. After more than 15 years at CBS News as a top producer, he replaced Michael Gartner as NBC News chief following revelations the network had rigged a pickup truck to catch fire in a crash shown on "Dateline NBC."

After serving as news chief at NBC, he became network president before leaving in 2003 to become chairman of Sony Music Entertainment. He left the music business for Bloomberg Media, spending six years there before becoming chief executive at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency, last year.

He would bring extensive news experience in the U.S. market to a leadership team that now lacks it. Pat Fili-Krushel, who now runs the NBC News Group, is a veteran TV executive with a background mostly in entertainment and NBC News President Deborah Turness came to the network from ITV News in Great Britain. Both are expected to remain with NBC Universal, although their future roles are unclear, the executive said.

The biggest issue Lack would immediately face is the future of Williams, currently the target of an internal investigation into other instances where he may have told untrue or exaggerated stories about his news experiences, often in entertainment settings. There are conflicting feelings, even within NBC News, about whether Williams would ever be able to return as the network's top on-air personality. Lester Holt is filling in for Williams and has kept "Nightly News" atop the ratings, although its edge over second-place ABC's "World News Tonight" has shrunk.

"Nightly News" and Williams had been the bright spot at NBC News, where the "Today" show hasn't been able to cut into the ratings lead of ABC's "Good Morning America" and saw the embarrassing saga of a new executive overseeing the show being let go after only a couple of months last fall. Turness engineered the replacement of David Gregory as "Meet the Press" host by Chuck Todd last year. NBC angered viewers last fall when medical correspondent Nancy Snyderman violated a self-imposed quarantine for potential Ebola exposure.

CNBC and MSNBC also present challenges, primarily due to declining ratings.

CNBC had some of its worst ratings since the late 1990s last year, and recently announced it had stopped relying on the Nielsen company, the industry standard for measuring viewership. CNBC has long contended Nielsen's failure to measure workplace viewing underestimates its audience, but the network has also been challenged by the business world's increased reliance on the Internet for fast-moving news.

The left-leaning news network MSNBC has also lost viewers, and is said to be re-evaluating the extent to which it emphasizes a political point of view or more straight news.


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