The Real Reason Brian Williams Is Leaving NBC News After 28 Years

It's the end of an era for renowned news anchor Brian Williams. After spearheading various programs at MSNBC and NBC News, he has decided to part ways with the network following the expiration of his contract at the end of the year. "This is the end of a chapter and the beginning of another," Williams said in a statement, per CNN. "There are many things I want to do, and I'll pop up again somewhere. For the next few months, I'll be with my family, the people I love most and the people who enabled my career to happen. I will reflect on the kindness people have shown me, and I will pay it forward."

Rashida Jones, president of MSNBC, expressed the network's gratitude towards Williams. She also confirmed that his departure is largely due to his desire to spend more time with his family. "After nearly three decades as an award-winning journalist and anchor at MSNBC and NBC News, Brian Williams has informed us he would like to take the coming months to spend time with his family," she wrote in a memo, per The Hollywood Reporter. "We and our viewers will miss his penetrating questions and thoughtful commentary. Please join me in expressing our deep gratitude for 28 years of devoted service to our viewers and wishing him the very best."

While both parties are adamant that Williams is leaving for personal reasons, there may be more to the story than meets the eye.

Brian Williams may have quit over failed contract negotiations

Brian Williams' tenure at MSNBC and NBC News is an interesting one, to say the least. In 2015, he drew flak from the public after he exaggerated some of his reporting from Iraq, resulting in his removal from the "Nightly News" anchor desk. He returned to the air the following year and successfully revived his career and reputation when he helped turn "The 11th Hour" into a massive hit.

Williams had been helming the show for half a decade at this point, but a source told The Hollywood Reporter that the anchor wanted to explore other opportunities beyond the 11 PM timeslot. He is said to have undergone contract negotiations with the network over the past few months and per the Los Angeles Times, he had received a hefty offer. Whether or not that included a new role remains unclear.

According to the outlet, Williams currently does not have another job lined up, but in the meantime, he hopes that people will continue to support "The 11th Hour." "I ask all those who are a part of our loyal viewing audience to remain loyal," he said in his statement, per CNN. "'The 11th Hour' will remain in good hands, produced by the best team in cable news."

'The 11th Hour with Brian Williams' consistently received high ratings for MSNBC

Despite airing at 11 p.m. EST (past primetime), the aptly-titled "11th Hour with Brian Williams" was consistently a ratings winner for MSNBC. With a star-studded lineup of Nicolle Wallace, Ari Melber, Joy Reid, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O'Donnell, Brian Williams' program always topped off a day of charismatic coverage from MSNBC's anchors.

In December 2020, NBCUniversal reported that MSNBC nabbed its highest-rated month in history, with "The 11th Hour" ranking as number one. Per their analysis, "The 11th Hour" drew 2.5 million total viewers on average and finished in first place for the second month in a row. Fox News and CNN, on the other hand, paled in comparison — with the two scoring 2.1 million and 1.4 million viewers, respectively. It was also noted that "The 11th Hour" saw an increase of 132 percent in viewership compared to November 2016, as opposed to CNN's 33 percent and Fox News' 10 percent.

Speaking about the show's success, Williams told Forbes that he credits the success, in part, to having "the best guests on television." Williams continued, "Think of this show without our merry band of Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, former federal prosecutors, former FBI assistant directors. We are only as good as our guests." Clearly, something paid off. 

A run at streaming may be in Brian Williams' future

While Brian Williams got his start on traditional TV, streaming services have become the new norm. With the advent of Netflix, many companies have followed suit, and now there are innumerable streaming platforms at the helm. We've seen numerous celebrities take advantage of the streaming craze — a notable one being David Letterman. Following his 2015 retirement from late-night television, Letterman returned in 2018 with Netflix's "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman."

Now, Brian Williams may be the next newsman to follow suit. Deadline reports that amidst his impending MSNBC departure, new speculation has arisen that Williams will soon hop on the streaming train — as the outlet references the arrival of CNN's upcoming streaming service, CNN+. Deadline also notes that anchor Kasie Hunt was poached from MSNBC and NBC News for CNN's new streaming endeavor. Furthermore, WarnerMedia reportedly attempted to nab MSNBC mainstay Rachel Maddow (to the tune of $20 million!) as well. Even Williams seemed to hint at a possible future on his final episode of "The 11th Hour," saying per Deadline, "This is the end of a chapter and the beginning of another. There are many things I want to do and I'll pop up again somewhere."