Brian Williams Salary Shocker: Close to $10 Million for 10 Percent of NBC Audience (Exclusive)

The disgraced newsman will still earn big bucks despite his demotion, insiders tells TheWrap

Brian Williams (Matthew Lloyd/Getty; Jeff Maurone)
Matthew Lloyd/Getty; Jeff Maurone

Brian Williams will still make close to $10 million per year despite his demotion to a breaking news role at MSNBC, which has at best just 10 percent the audience of the “NBC Nightly News” broadcast, an individual with knowledge of his compensation told TheWrap.

The insider said that Williams would be making “between $8 and $10 million,” adding that the figure represented what the former anchor considered a big cut in pay.

The disgraced news anchor was making closer to $15 million at the network, not the $10 million that has been previously reported, the insider said.

An NBC News spokesman declined to comment, saying that the network won’t discuss personnel contracts.

But multiple individuals told TheWrap that Williams’ salary cut was not as significant as might be expected, given how much smaller the MSNBC audience is than that of the network he was leaving.

In early June, the half-hour “NBC Nightly News” averaged 7,868,000 viewers per night and 1,928,000 in the 25-54 demographic, according to Nielsen figures. By contrast, on Tuesday, June 16, MSNBC’s highest-rated show was “The Rachel Maddow Show,” an hour-long broadcast with 742,000 viewers and just 166,999 in the 25-54 demo.

According to insiders, Williams was offered at least one possible option that would have allowed him to stay at NBC though not at the nightly telecast. He chose to go to MSNBC instead.

In the heated negotiations, his best ally was Andrew Lack, the former NBC president who recently returned to become NBC News chairman and who knows Williams well. NBCU chairman Steven Burke was known to have been furious at Williams and wanted him fired, but calmed down over time and agreed to an outcome that allowed everyone to save face.

Everyone, including Williams, felt the right deal was made, according to one executive with knowledge of the discussions.

Meanwhile, Williams continues to take criticism internally from colleagues at the network, and is not much better liked at MSNBC, where he anchored a show in its early years.

“A big conversation here is what kind of message does this send — are lies OK on MSNBC, but not NBC?” one MSNBC insider told TheWrap, adding that producers feel executives are more interested in the possible ratings surge Williams can provide the struggling network rather than in protecting its credibility.

But one executive at a rival network predicted it would not impact the ailing cable news channel.

“It’s not going to make any difference for MSNBC,” the rival network executive said. “What MSNBC needs is a series of new prime time shows, and this doesn’t solve this.”

Williams worked at MSNBC in the early parts of his NBC career, anchoring “The News With Brian Williams” in the late 1990s. He was elevated to anchor of “NBC Nightly News” in 2004, replacing the legendary Tom Brokaw.

Williams will anchor breaking news during the day for the “Lean Forward” network, boosting the network’s recent pivot to hard news.

A few floors up at 30 Rockefeller Center, many NBC News staffers weren’t pleased with Williams getting to keep any role at NBC, however diminished. The former “Nightly News” anchor will serve as a  breaking news anchor for NBC News live special reports in addition to his MSNBC assignment.

“They did the right thing by taking him off ‘Nightly,’ but how does he have credibility anchoring breaking news?” one NBC News insider asked TheWrap.

Another had a problem with NBC’s vague statement on its internal investigation into Williams’ reporting.

“There’s no difference between him lying on-air versus while shooting the breeze with Letterman,” one longtime staffer told TheWrap. “The latter doesn’t make it OK.”

The network said it “found that Williams made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field” while emphasizing that most of Williams’ fibs “did not for the most part occur on NBC News platforms or in the immediate aftermath of the news events, but rather on late-night programs and during public appearances, usually years after the news events in question.”