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NBC Turns to CBS to Find a News Boss : Media: The executive producer of 'Street Stories' is chosen to repair the network's tattered image.

April 08, 1993|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Andrew Lack, a longtime CBS News producer, has been named the new president of NBC News, ending the embattled network's search for an executive to rebuild its news division's image after the highly publicized staging of a vehicle crash on "Dateline NBC."

Although Lack has been an award-winning documentary producer for "CBS Reports," he is known primarily as the creator and executive producer of the CBS newsmagazines "Face to Face With Connie Chung" and "West 57th." He is now the executive producer of the CBS newsmagazine "Street Stories" and has produced an upcoming two-hour documentary about World War II anchored by retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Lack's appointment Wednesday by NBC President Robert Wright was seen by many NBC News insiders as a sign of a renewed emphasis at NBC on creating prime-time newsmagazines and other money-making news programming.

"NBC executives told me that one reason they were interested in me for the job was because of my background in creating news programming," Lack, 45, said in an interview Wednesday. "A big part of the job will be to develop more broadcasts from the news division in prime-time, daytime and even other areas."

Still, Lack said he considered the network's prime-time newscast "the flagship of the news division and a top priority" in his job. "I have great regard for Tom Brokaw, and I'm coming to collaborate with the staff," Lack said as he headed for a meeting with the "NBC Nightly News" anchor.

"We're still in the hard-news business, but news divisions also are in the newsmagazine business today," Brokaw said in an interview. "We've had too many administrators and too few producers in the job in recent years. Andy is a smart, sophisticated producer with a lot of creativity and energy, and I'm delighted that he's coming here."

Lack signed what was said to be a five-year contract at NBC shortly after CBS executives agreed to release him from his CBS contract.

Like Brokaw, Wright emphasized Lack's knowledge about the production of television news in making the announcement--an acknowledgment, perhaps, of problems with NBC's choice of newspaperman Michael Gartner the last time it named a news chief.

"The biggest issue in front of us will be our programming, whether it's 'NBC Nightly News,' the 'Today' show or other news programming," Wright said in an interview. "Andy Lack has won 16 news Emmys and has outstanding qualifications as a serious news producer on every program from '60 Minutes' to CBS News specials. It's been a long time since we've had someone who has had such a strong background as a news producer in the job of president of NBC News."

Lack, who joined CBS News as a producer in 1976, was criticized by TV critics for re-creating historical events in 1989 on an earlier Chung program. On Wednesday, he said he did not intend to use the technique at NBC News. "That was a one-time experiment, and I don't think it has any application today in serious broadcast journalism," Lack said.

Since Gartner's resignation last month in the wake of the "Dateline NBC" incident, NBC executives had discussed the job with a number of high-profile TV journalists, including ABC News President Roone Arledge, PBS commentator Bill Moyers and Cable News Network President Tom Johnson.

Both Wright and Lack said they believed that creating strong news programming was the best way to rebuild the image of NBC News.

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