NEW YORK — Tom Brokaw has reupped as anchor of the “NBC Nightly News” after a brief but unpromising courtship by CNN.
Brokaw’s new five-year deal, worth an estimated $7 million a year in salary, marks a significant bump from his current $4 million to $5 million payday, which now puts him in the same league as rival news stars including ABC’s Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, who reign over that network’s profitable primetime newsmagazines. With additional stock options newly granted by NBC parent General Electric Co., Brokaw’s pact is valued at close to $8 million a year. It begins with the expiration of his current contract on Aug. 3, and extends to August 2002.
The signing was unsurprising: Brokaw, 57, has been at NBC for 31 years, and lately the “NBC Nightly News” has snared the ratings lead from ABC’s “World News Tonight” during several weeks, including last week. “The CNN thing was very flattering and intriguing, and I obviously had to take a hard look at it,” Brokaw said Thursday. “But my friends at CNN knew it was highly unlikely I was going to go there.”
Initial lowball offer
Sources close to the negotiations say Brokaw’s interest in CNN stemmed mainly from an initial lowball offer made by NBC, and many observers had expected him to use the cable channel as leverage in his negotiations with the Peacock. When CNN talks proved a reality, NBC upped the ante for Brokaw through his agent, Ed Hookstratten, who couldn’t be reached for comment.
But Brokaw’s defection would have been devastating to NBC, not only because of his personal ties to CEO Bob Wright and GE chairman Jack Welch, but also because many news veterans view his capable heir apparent, Brian Williams, as not yet ready to step into the top anchor chair. “The bench is rather weak for talent to step into that,” said another top TV agent.
Brokaw has been sole anchor since 1983.For at least the next five years, Brokaw will continue as “Nightly News” anchor, while contributing occasionally to “Dateline NBC” and appearing on MSNBC, CNN’s fledgling cable news rival.