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NBC's Brian Williams taking on new competition

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 18, 2014 at 10:30 am •  Published: August 18, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — Wearing shades as he walked back to work following a pizza lunch recently, Brian Williams ducked into Rockefeller Center and passed a tour guide who noted the celebrity sighting to his group: "Ladies and gentlemen, there's Tom Brokaw."

The television business can be humbling, even nearly 10 years after Williams succeeded Brokaw as NBC "Nightly News" anchor. Williams, 55, faces new competition from both ABC and CBS as they look to end NBC's 256-week streak as the most popular evening newscast.

David Muir takes over after Labor Day as anchor of the second-place "World News" at ABC. Steve Capus, former NBC news president and longtime Williams producer, is in charge behind the scenes as Scott Pelley's executive producer at the "CBS Evening News."

"When I started my competition was Dan (Rather) and Peter (Jennings)," Williams said. "That makes me feel old. That gets me on the treadmill every night after work. I am proud of what we've built here."

So far this year, "Nightly News" has averaged 8.9 million viewers and widened its lead over ABC (8 million) and CBS (6.8 million). ABC has gained lately in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic, important to advertisers even as it is a minority of evening news viewers. ABC occasionally wins in that category and, in July, was up 5 percent over last year while NBC was down 4 percent, the Nielsen company said.

"Nightly" is the no-drama newscast at a network where "Today" seeks to regain its mojo against ABC's ratings leader "Good Morning America" and David Gregory is being replaced by Chuck Todd as moderator of "Meet the Press," as the venerable Sunday morning show has fallen from first to third place during Gregory's tenure.

On a summer afternoon, "Nightly" executive producer Patrick Burkey and Williams presided over an afternoon news meeting to go over stories that might squeeze into that evening's 22-minute news hole. Williams takes some ribbing from Todd over the anchor's description of colleague Lester Holt "slappin' the bass" while sitting in with the Roots on the "Tonight" show.

As if to prove a point, Williams repeats the reference on "Nightly."

The biggest change in the job since Williams took over has been the immediacy. Burkey said "Nightly" is much more likely than it once was to change its lineup to reflect late-breaking news and frequently updates the telecast for the West Coast. With social media, if Williams says something mildly controversial or a graphic is misspelled, people at "Nightly" hear about it instantly.

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