What should Brian Williams do next? It's the question everyone in this business asks, or usually ends up asking me. The answers are vague, formless, lost in a fog of speculation, as that recent Vanity Fair story so vividly established.
"Who knows!" I say. But then no one knows, or seems to know, or wants to know -- except that a return to "Nightly News" this summer does appear increasingly remote.
That could change -- anything could. But in the absence of actually “knowing” and adrift in speculation, allow me to offer this modest proposal: Make Brian Williams the new face of MSNBC.
This resolves a number of issues -- and potentially opens up new opportunities. It could offer a seamless re-entry point for Williams. It could also be a back-the-future move, or a return to the network where he effectively apprenticed for "Nightly News."
It would also be about "rebuilding" -- both a network AND a reputation.
The most obvious drawback? Williams himself, who might see this as a final fatal humiliation -- a fall from grace so far that the landing zone is a network consigned to the witness protection program ...and yes, of course I remember the old days -- when none of the big stars (Matt Lauer, Bryant Gumbel, Katie Couric and on and on) wanted to moonlight on MSNBC (although it was in Secaucus at the time).
But this is -- I humbly submit -- a profoundly different situation and moment.
Read this post and decide whether it might even change Williams’ mind:
1.) Make Williams host of a 9 p.m. broadcast (and push "The Rachel Maddow Show" to 10). This instantly gives MS an identity in the very heart of its broadcast day, or rather night.
2.) The Williams show would not be a mere "interview" series -- not his great strength anyway -- but would instead comprise elements of other programs, including "The Daily Show." Williams is a funny, self-deprecating guy. He wanted to replace David Letterman? Now's his opportunity to prove he can tell jokes and occasionally segue into serious stuff, too. This show could even borrow elements of "Morning Joe" -- conversations WITH rather than inquisitions OF newsmakers and other assorted interesting people. Also include music: Williams styles himself as a guy who knows the difference between (say) Modest Mouse and Two Door Cinema Club. (Right! Who doesn’t?) Now he can have artists on his very own show.
3.) Pretape this show. It doesn't have to be live, and shouldn't be. Give him a studio audience too. No band. No sidekick. But maybe his own "correspondent crew." Pretape is good for all sorts of reasons -- the procurement of guests and the prospect for the host to get home at a reasonable hour being the leading ones.
4.) OK, let's give this baby a name -- "The Brian Williams Show." Catchy, no?
5.) This would instantly draw a big crowd -- and in a TV world constantly, frantically, looking to draw attention to new shows, what's wrong with that? It would even get viewers who never even knew there was such a thing as "MSNBC." A few million would watch for a night or two, then drift away. But -- I would submit -- many would stay.
6.) A Williams show broadens the appeal of MSNBC. Hey, nothing against Maddow -- whose show does OK, in fact -- but she's speaking to a tiny choir, the members of whom are scattered on opposite coasts. Williams would easily secure a broader swath of mid-country territory.
7.) A Williams show would -- or could -- be a headache for Fox News. Brian Williams versus Megyn Kelly? Maybe she wins this matchup, but maybe she probably doesn't win it by the kind of margin she's getting now. Williams would smoke whatever CNN puts on -- in my estimation.
8.) A Williams show -- if done smartly -- could even offer an alternative to "The Daily Show." "TDS" is about to enter a "transitional phase" under new host Trevor Noah this fall, which means viewers will be shopping. Air a repeat at 11 p.m. Let them check it out.
9.) A Williams/MSNBC play offers redemption. Here's how it'd work out, or could work out. Williams apologizes -- again -- for his misremembering. Some viewers buy in. Many don't. "Oh, he's the serial embellisher!" the detractors say And then, days pass ... weeks pass. Williams is doing a good job -- and getting some ratings too. The history doesn't go away, but slowly it recedes and becomes part of the past ... a dimly lit sad chapter that years from now, people won't even remember.
10.) This solves a couple of headaches for Andy Lack, new NBC News chief. Let's face it -- because Lack already has: He can't easily unseat Lester Holt when this suspension lifts. Holt's done a fine job (and was particularly good Wednesday night on the North Charleston police shooting story). Sure, "World News Tonight" won in total viewers last week, but David Muir has been playing catch-up for months and that win probably had nothing to do with Holt. With this move, Lack gets his friend, Brian Williams, back in the building AND he begins the MSNBC resuscitation process. Meanwhile, he causes tsuris for his rivals -- CNN and Fox. (By my count, that's four problems solved.)
OK, have I sold you yet?
(More to the point, have I sold Brian?)