The presence of a woman atop one of the big three evening newscasts is almost as rare as a female anchor. But just after Katie Couric took the helm at CBS, Alexandra Wallace became executive producer of NBC’s “Nightly News With Brian Williams” in March, becoming the first woman to hold the job at any network in more than a decade.
She arrived at a stressful moment. After maintaining first place since 1996, NBC was on the cusp of falling into second behind ABC’s Charles Gibson. Since then, Gibson has solidified his lead, leaving Wallace and Williams to lead the fight back from an unfamiliar spot. “Yes, I want to win, but what I worry about most is about how to put on a broadcast every night that people want to watch,” she says.
For Wallace, that means sticking to the hard news of the day while tapping the ongoing stories defining the zeitgeist: the environment and immigration. On these stories and others, Wallace says, she and Williams have like minds. “In general, we have similar opinions,” she says. “We may disagree on certain things, but in the end, it’s his name on the broadcast.”
Holding the banner for serious news can sometimes collide with the story of the day, especially when that story is Paris Hilton. “Nightly News” covered the controversy over the celeb heiress’s premature release to home confinement, but it didn’t join the frenzy when she finished her sentence. “Pop culture is part of the news these days, and to ignore it is a mistake, but that’s not our (main) job,” she says.
Wallace, mother of two young children, says her toughest challenge is balancing family with a 24/7 job. Because she’s rarely home for dinner, she spends as much time in the morning reading the papers and watching “Today.”
“These are hard jobs, but I love the news and I love the broadcast and I really like Brian,” she says. “That’s the upside, but it’s not like being a bartender on the beach in Bali.”
Recent breakthrough: “Crow pose in yoga.”
Role model: “My father.”
Career mantra: “Hard work pays off.”
What’s next: “Who knows?”