Lester Holt greets viewers of “NBC Nightly News” in similar fashion every night, delivering what NBC News believes is the most important story of the day. When it comes to winding up the broadcast, however, Holt is about to expand his range of options.
“Nightly” viewers are already familiar with segments like “Inspiring America” (once known as “Making A Difference”) and “Those Who Serve.” Now audiences will start to see Holt lead a Tuesday segment called “Snapshot” that examines how everyday and even extraordinary Americans are leading their lives; a Thursday vignette known as “Spotlight” that looks at celebrities and popular culture of the moment; and a Friday report called “Above and Beyond” showcasing people who rose to a moment or went the extra mile. “Inspiring America” and “Those Who Serve,” will run on Mondays and Wednesdays, respectively.
“Sometimes the story that people will be talking about most at the end of the broadcast may not be one of the stories in the first seconds,” says Holt in an interview. “It may end up being the story at the end.”
The nation’s evening newscasts have long featured signature segments that help end the broadcasts with a note of optimism. At ABC’s “World News Tonight,” David Muir has put more than 250 segments of “Made in America” on the air, during which he travels to different U.S. communities. He also does many of the broadcast’s “America Strong” and “Person of the Week” features. The pieces often generate personal messages from viewers sent via social media. At “CBS Evening News,” Friday night’s “On The Road” segment led by Steve Hartman, which has its roots in the pieces Charles Kuralt used to file for the network, is one of the program’s most popular elements. “NBC Nightly News” will now feature a different one of these each weekday night.
The NBC News evening mainstay has been locked in an intense ratings battle with ABC’s “World News” – the ABC evening program has in the past two weeks won more of the viewers between 25 and 54 that advertisers covet – but Holt says his team is focused on the “Nightly” audience. “We know what our brand is. We know what our viewers expect from us,” he says. Season to date, “NBC Nightly News” is leading ABC in the advertiser demo, as well as among viewers between 18 and 49.
In these days of frenzied news cycles and seismic global happenings, viewers are seeking a little respite, suggests Holt. With headlines yelling about relations with North Korea and investigations into Russian interference with U.S. voting procedures, “I’ll fully admit that I’ll walk off the set some nights and say, ‘That was tough,'” says Holt. “These are difficult stories to chew on, and we can all use some kind of affirmation.”
There are new signs that American news aficionados are seeking a little respite. The Pew Research Center, citing responses from more than 5,000 U.S. adults surveyed in late February and early March, found 68% of Americans feel worn out by the amount of news they get, with just 30% saying they liked the amount of news they regularly consume. A majority of Republican and Democrats felt the same way – meaning that this sentiment may be something everyone can agree upon.
NBC’s various end segments were usually assigned to different correspondents, but Holt says he will play a larger role in these new franchises. He was already heavily involved in the “Inspiring America” series.
“I’ve taken this on as my project,” he says. At the very least, he will provide the voice overs for the segments, and in as many cases as possible, he will visit with and interview the subjects of the various stories. “To the extent I can, you will see me on the ground reporting on scene,” he says. It may be possible for him to get to Cleveland and back between “Nightly” broadcasts if an interview is there, for example, or he may be able to break away from on-the-ground coverage at a particular scene to talk to someone for another segment. “Nightly” has under his tenure increased its broadcasts from Los Angeles, giving Holt another opportunity to do interviews for the finales.
“There is a real appetite for more of these stories,” Holt says, noting that people often approach him and tell him that the end segments, “make me cry, make me smile and thank you for doing them.”