NBC anchor’s away after next election

Brokaw the first of the Big Three anchors to announce exit

NEW YORK — Tom Brokaw will ankle his post as anchor of “NBC Nightly News” in late 2004, setting the stage for long-time heir apparent Brian Williams to succeed him.

Announcement, which came Tuesday at a Gotham press conference, ends months of speculation about Brokaw’s future with the Peacock, as well as questions about whether Williams might be getting ready to jump ship. It also makes Brokaw the first of the so-called Big Three anchors to announce an exit strategy.

Brokaw said he will step down shortly after the presidential election in November 2004. He’ll then be replaced by Williams, who’s long been in line to succeed Brokaw but now finally has a start date.

There had been buzz that Brokaw might step down earlier or bolt NBC when his contract expires this summer. But the anchor said the aftermath of Sept. 11 convinced him to stay on a bit longer.

‘Serious story’

“It’s a rich, important, serious story,” he said, adding that the thought that Williams would take his place “made it easier” for him to retire.

Williams will continue to fill in for Brokaw and will also take on more high-profile reporting assignments to increase his presence on NBC.

As for Williams’ nightly MNSBC newscast, “The News,” it will shift exclusively to sister cabler CNBC later this summer. While “The News” was once MSNBC’s signature newscast, cabler has now moved toward more opinion- and personality-driven programs.

Even though Brokaw will leave “Nightly News,” he won’t be leaving NBC completely in 2004. Instead, he’ll continue to work on some primetime magazine segments and do other special assignments for NBC.

“It doesn’t mean I’m going to sit in the Anchorman’s Rest Home and take soft food in January 2004,” said the 62-year-old Brokaw.

Wooing Williams

In recent weeks, there has been speculation that CBS was wooing Williams, which some insiders characterized as posturing, while others speculated that he would have left if given the right deal.

NBC might have had a difficult time finding a suitable replacement for Brokaw had Williams bolted.

“It’s very hard to find male anchor talent,” says ICM’s Babette Perry, who represents Tom Bergeron, reportedly a candidate for CBS’ “The Early Show.”

Williams said he decided he was staying put at NBC a few weeks ago, while attending the Peacock’s 75th anniversary gala.

“I turned to my wife and said, and ‘I’d want to leave here because?’ ” Williams told Daily Variety. “It’s what Dorothy said, ‘There’s no place like home.’ ”