Lester Holt’s next NBC job takes him from serious “Nightly News” to a part of the TV schedule once known for being more animated.
The veteran anchor will this weekend debut his “Kids’ Edition” of NBC’s evening newscast on its Saturday A.M. schedule, just in time to talk about the looming 2020 election — and Halloween, to boot.
“I don’t have to wear a tie, which is always fun,” quips Holt in a recent interview.
Holt’s dress may be casual, but there’s something potentially consequential about the maneuver, and not just because the anchor often uses the program to answer children’s questions about the coronavirus pandemic. “Nightly News: Kids” Edition” (complete with a young person doing a voice-over introduction) has been streaming once or twice a week on NBCNews.com since it debuted in April, and NBC’s interest in trying it on traditional television — it will air this Saturday and on November 14 — is the latest sign of the new importance some of the medium’s biggest news operations are placing on younger audiences.
Nickelodeon, part of ViacomCBS, recently named Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson, a veteran producer at “60 Minutes,” as its vice president of news programming as well as executive producer of a rebooted “Nick News.” That well-regarded effort ended in 2016, when former host and producer Linda Ellerbee retired. Meanwhile, WarnerMedia’s CNN has recently been working with Sesame Workshop on a series of “town hall” events that tap characters from “Sesame Street” to help talk to younger viewers about the intense and sometimes difficult cycle of news that has enveloped many Americans.
NBC News may be trying to see if it can bring the younger viewers accustomed to streaming Holt’s reports for kids from social media to a more traditional outlet. The show has also been available on NBC News’ YouTube channel an NBCUniversal’s streaming-video service Peacock. Approximately 26% of all U.S. adults say they get some of their news on YouTube, according to a study conducted earlier this year by Pew Research, but “relatively few” say the YouTube content represents their primary news source.
Once jammed full of cartoons from Hanna-Barbera and special-effects-laden sci-fi from Sid & Marty Krofft, broadcast-network Saturday mornings have become a relatively staid affair. The networks years ago ceded most of their schedule at that time to their news divisions and local affiliates or turned it over to programming blocks curated by third-party producers. NBC News designed Holt’s kids-news program for viewers between six and the early teens.
There is precedent for the show. CBS News between 1971 and 1986 featured two-minute-long “In The News” segments for kids during Saturday-morning cartoons. The main anchor, Christopher Glenn, narrated the reports without appearing on camera. Between 1978 and 1982, however, he anchored “30 Minutes,” a kids’ version of mainstay “60 Minutes” that appeared on CBS after the Saturday cartoons had ended for the day.
The first TV version of “Kids Edition” is slated to air Saturday on NBC at 8:30 a.m. eastern on many stations – and will run 30 minutes (the digital editions tend to run between 10 and 20). With the presidential election just three days away, Holt will talk to viewers about the voting process and feature reports on a virtual Halloween costume parade and a pumpkin science experiment. He will also offer tips for children about masks, and a piece on pandemic puppies, and will take questions submitted by children on topics that fire up their curiosity.
Recent “Kids Edition” episodes on YouTube – 50 have been made so far — feature Holt and NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres answering coronavirus questions from young viewers who email videos of themselves. Many of them thank “Mr. Holt” for doing the show, and one young girl even showed off a new spider-shaped hair accessory. The program also features a series on “Inspiring Kids,” like one young teen who continues to swim despite losing her sight due to a rare autoimmune disease. The segment focuses on her guide dog as a way to interest younger viewers.
Some “Kids Edition” reports explain what it’s like to be the president of the United States or why Alaskan bears eat so much before they hibernate. Other NBC News personnel who join Holt on camera are introduced as “our friend” or “our pal.” Holt has used the sign-off he has used on traditional “Nightly News” for his younger audience: “Take care of yourself — and each other.” He has anchored the program from a home office, and viewers can clearly see one of his hobbies on display. Holt plays bass guitar and at least one instrument can be spotted hanging on a wall.
“It’s been fun for us to try to encapsulate the big stories and themes of the week,” says Holt. The idea was suggested by one of the producers at “Nightly News” as the nation became more gripped by the pandemic, and a team has been working on it enough to keep it going week to week. “It has been the little engine that could,” says Holt. “It was an idea among a few people at ‘Nightly News’ and a few more people came aboard, and we said, ‘Let’s figure it out.’ We put it on really quickly and we continue to tweak it.” Audience reaction will play some role in determining if one of those tweaks is doing the show for TV on a permanent basis.