Can Andy Lack Survive Atop NBC News After Megyn Kelly Debacle?

“Andy Lack has now made several very costly and embarrassing mistakes for NBC,” an industry insider who has worked with Lack tells TheWrap

Last Updated: October 26, 2018 @ 3:12 PM

With NBC officially pulling the plug on “Megyn Kelly Today” after just over a year, new questions are emerging about NBC News chairman Andy Lack’s leadership and what increasingly looks like his catastrophic decision to poach Kelly from Fox News last year for a three-year, $69 million contract.

“It was a huge mistake to hire her. Especially for that amount of money,” an NBC insider told TheWrap. “Most of her year and a half was a struggle, and [she] never grew within the organization.”

While Kelly is still negotiating what many expect will be an exit from the network after an on-air gaffe defending white people’s dressing in blackface on Halloween, multiple professional media observers said Lack will face some pressure after such a costly blunder.

“While [NBCUniversal CEO] Stephen Burke has said in the past that he supports him, Andy Lack has now made several very costly and embarrassing mistakes for NBC,” an industry insider who has worked with Lack told TheWrap on Friday. “I am sure the ownership and board of Comcast, NBCs owner, will want a full explanation.”

A rep for Comcast referred TheWrap to NBC, which declined to comment for this story.

“This debacle is far more on Andy Lack than Megyn Kelly,” said Joe Concha, a media reporter and commentator for The Hill. “What went wrong is that NBC signed her for $69 million with zero idea how to get the most out of its investment … When you pay that kind of money, you better have bigger plans and a more coherent game plan than that.”

And it’s not the first strike against Lack, who has served as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC since 2015. (He had an earlier stint as president of NBC’s news division in the 1990s.)

NBC News faced ethics questions after Donald Trump’s “grab her by the p–sy” tape from NBC-produced “Access Hollywood” leaked to Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold (who later went on to become an MSNBC contributor).

There have also been ongoing questions about company culture after a #MeToo scandal forced the ouster of longtime “Today” anchor Matt Lauer last November.

In addition, Lack has faced questions about spiking Ronan Farrow’s investigation into sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein — an exposé he took to the New Yorker and for which he later shared the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year.

While Farrow and others have suggested the piece was killed under pressure from Weinstein, Lack said in a statement last month, “at no point did NBC obstruct Farrow’s reporting or ‘kill’ an interview.”

“Do we have a case of Andy lacking judgment?” a second industry insider said. “Again and again and again.”

Unlike Lauer, who was fired “for cause” and did not receive any severance on his $20 million-plus annual salary, Kelly is likely to walk away with much if not all that remains on her three-year contract.

“This puts some pressure on Lack since this move will cost parent company Comcast heavily, not to mention the messy PR that is coming along with it,” Concha said.

Since Kelly launched her daytime show last September during the third hour of “Today,” her ratings have also lagged behind her predecessors in the timeslot, Tamron Hall and Al Roker (who were also paid considerably less).

And in her short-lived primetime series during the summer of 2017, Kelly’s high-profile interviews with newsmakers like Vladimir Putin and Alex Jones received at best mixed reviews.

In addition, the combative interview style that made her Fox News’ No. 2 primetime star after Bill O’Reilly seemed like an uncomfortable fit for morning TV audiences, which are often more diverse both in gender and race.

Last October, Lack told Politico he called Kelly a “great” and “serious journalist” and wasn’t concerned about any potential stylistic differences. “I didn’t focus on what the Fox sensibility is versus what the NBC News sensibility is,” he said. “I thought she would fit into the NBC culture.”

On CNN, Thursday evening Don Lemon noted that NBC knew it was getting a firebrand when it hired her. “She made some mistakes and now she’s suffering the consequences. But I also think that it is partially the fault of the people who hired her,” Lemon said during an appearance on “Cuomo Primetime.” “Because Megyn’s record, how she feels about things — she says she’s not PC — it’s all there. All you have to do is do a Google search.”

Lemon added, “The management has to take some responsibility in it, she has to take some responsibly in it, and her representatives have to take some responsibility.”

Still, the reaction to her defense of whites wearing blackface came swiftly and furiously.

All week, Kelly’s own colleagues at NBC leveled some of the harshest criticism, with morning anchor Craig Melvin calling the remarks “ignorant and racist.”  Roker demanded “a bigger apology to folks of color.”

Lack himself was unsparing. “There is no other way to put this: I condemn those remarks,” he said in an NBC town hall Wednesday. “There is no place on our air or in this workplace for them.”