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Brian Williams Comeback Begins? NBC Touts ‘Nightly News’ Ratings Milestone

Brian Williams may be on a scandal-driven break from the newscast, but NBC is still touting the show’s ratings performance and edge over the competition.

NBC News on Tuesday noted that “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” delivered an average 10.17 million viewers last week. According to NBC, that makes “Nightly” the only network newscast to top the 10 million weekly average threshold in eight years. “Nightly” has topped the eight-figure mark three times to date this season, according to NBC News.

NBC News’ chief anchor has been sidelined by the controversy that erupted last week when he admitted to exaggerating claims of facing enemy fire in a helicopter while covering the Iraq war in 2003. Williams’ account was challenged by veterans groups, which led him to deliver an on-air apology on the Feb. 4 edition of “Nightly News.”

NBC News is now investigating the circumstances surrounding Williams’ various accounts of the 2003 incident and how they changed over time. On Saturday, Williams said he was taking a “break” from his weeknight duties on the Peacock’s flagship newscast, on which he also serves as managing editor. NBC News vet Lester Holt has been subbing for Williams.

NBC News PR noted that “Nightly News” had a commanding lead for the week in total viewers over ABC’s “World News Tonight with David Muir” (9.46 million) and “The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” (7.8 million). In the target adults 25-54 demographic however, the race with ABC tightens with NBC nosing past ABC by a 189,000 viewer margin and by 720,000 over CBS.

On Friday’s telecast, however, after 48 hours of headlines about Williams’ misleading statements, ABC’s newscast pulled ahead of NBC’s in viewers (8.5 million to NBC’s 8.1 million) and by three-tenths of a rating point in adults 25-54 (2.0 vs. 1.7).

NBC’s decision to spin the “Nightly” numbers may be an effort to counteract the scrutiny of the show’s ratings decline since the Williams’ headlines hit. ABC no doubt is hoping to capitalize on Williams’ misfortune to close the razor-thin gap in the adults 25-54 demographic for the season to date, which stands at 38,000 viewers as of last week.

In total viewers, NBC is averaging 9.3 million for the season to date, comfortably ahead of ABC (by 597,000 viewers) and CBS (by 2 million viewers).

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