The new boss of NBCUniversal announced a surprise shakeup Monday that will include the ouster of longtime NBC News chairman Andy Lack.
Jeff Shell’s restructuring means Lack — who came under fire after Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill” accused NBC News executives including Lack’s right-hand man Noah Oppenheim of killing his Harvey Weinstein reporting — will leave at the end of the month, instead of after the 2020 presidential election as previously planned.
Lack, who has also been accused of downplaying an explosive rape allegation against former “Today” host Matt Lauer, will be replaced by Telemundo chief Cesar Conde, who will oversee NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC.
“There had been talk of management changes for a while,” said a source close to NBC. “Andy is so past his prime. Between the Ronan debacle, the Lauer debacle and even before that the Megyn Kelly and Brian Williams debacles, it’s no wonder he’s out.”
During Lack’s first tour of duty with NBC in the 1990s and early aughts, he was credited with pushing “NBC Nightly News” to the front of the ratings line with Tom Brokaw — and for having hired Lauer to replace Bryant Gumbel when he retired from the “Today” show.
Since his return to NBC in 2015, however, his division has been riddled with controversy, starting with his defense of Williams after the “NBC Nightly News” host was found to have embellished an Iraq war story on air.
There were ratings missteps as well, including Lack’s bungled attempt to turn Fox News anchor Kelly into an NBCU star by giving her two shows that tanked in the ratings, and a three-year contract worth $69 million. She was given her walking papers just a year and a half later after defending Halloween costumes that incorporate blackface on her morning talk show.
Lauer, who had reportedly been sleeping with staffers for years, was also fired on Lack’s watch after allegations of sexual misconduct emerged in 2017.
But NBC’s biggest embarrassment under Lack might have been Farrow’s getting his Pulitzer Prize-winning story on convicted Hollywood rapist Weinstein published in the New Yorker magazine just two months after he stopped working on it for NBC. Monday’s restructuring came as this year’s Pulitzer Prizes were being awarded.
Monday’s changes reflect Shell’s attempt to put his stamp on the broadcasting giant after taking over the CEO role from longtime boss Steve Burke earlier this year.
In addition to appointing Conde, 46, as head of the news division, Shell named Mark Lazarus chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, a unit that includes NBCU’s new streaming service, Peacock. The streaming product, which NBC soft-launched for Comcast subscribers last month, has become one of NBCU’s biggest priorities this year.
Oppenheim, who had been presumed to be Lack’s successor, remains NBC News president, reporting to Conde. Oppenheim inked a new contract with the company last year, but there had been a mounting outcry against that promotion inside the halls of 30 Rock since the publication of Farrow’s book.
The executive changes come as the company prepares to cut costs in order to manage the fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has been devastating to NBC’s business, including a 7 percent decline in revenue for the period ending in March.
Shell — who himself tested positive for coronavirus, putting him temporarily out of commission — referenced cutbacks during the Comcast earnings call last week, promising analysts he will be addressing expenses “pretty aggressively.”
“This is the right structure to lead NBCUniversal into the future during this transformational time in the industry,” Shell said in a statement. “Mark has a proven track record across every aspect of our television business from sports to local stations to entertainment. He is the ideal leader to oversee our television and streaming portfolio in this newly formed division, which allows us to have a more unified approach to our content strategy.”