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MSNBC prepares to relaunch Brian Williams; Kate Snow named afternoon anchor

The term that NBC News Chairman Andy Lack likes to use when he talks about the return of anchor Brian Williams to MSNBC is “page turn.”

For the sake of the struggling cable news network, he’s hoping viewers will see it the same way.

Williams will be back at NBC News headquarters on Tuesday to participate in MSNBC’s coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. The former “NBC Nightly News” anchor has been off the air since Feb. 8 in the aftermath of his false statements on his coverage of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Williams’ inaccurate account of being in a Chinook helicopter that was forced to the ground by enemy fire eventually cost him his job as the face of the most-watched evening newscast on television (he was replaced on "NBC Nightly News" by Lester Holt in June).

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But after a six-month suspension, Williams is getting a second chance with his new role of handling breaking news on MSNBC -- the ratings-challenged outlet where he once honed his anchoring skills before succeeding Tom Brokaw on “NBC Nightly News” in 2004.

Lack insists that Williams, who is not doing interviews before his relaunch, is enthused about the assignment and believes that the prolonged agony concerning the controversy is “in his rear-view mirror.”

“Brian’s core strength and his real passion is live, breaking news,” Lack said in an interview. “The piece of this [assignment] that Brian loves, that’s new for him, is there are going to be days when he’s on for hours.”

Williams’ audience during his daytime hours on MSNBC will not approach the 9 million that once watched him on “NBC Nightly News.” But if just a small fraction of them tune on a regular basis during the day, that will be enough to lift the channel’s scant viewership among the audience of 25-to-54-year-old viewers that advertisers seek.

Lack is also using the reemergence of Williams to solidify his plan to make MSNBC a destination for breaking-news coverage from NBC News. He has cleared the daytime hours of progressive-leaning talking heads, leaving the point-of-view programming -- led by Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell -- to evenings and prime time, where it is competitive on many nights with second-place CNN. Fox News Channel is the ratings leader in cable news.

“This is about MSNBC and NBC News joined at the hip,” Lack said. “We’re one news organization. We’re one family. Same values and the same mission statement.”

Lack has also named Kate Snow to lead the 3 p.m.-5 p.m. (Eastern time) hours on MSNBC while also getting the permanent assignment as Sunday anchor “NBC Nightly News,” where she has often filled in. Jose Diaz-Balart will remain the MSNBC anchor from 9-11 a.m., followed by Tamron Hall at 11 a.m.-noon.

As previously announced, NBC News political director and "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd will have a daily 5 p.m. program called “MTP Daily” that will focus on the 2016 presidential campaign.

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The decision as to when Williams will be inserted into MSNBC's breaking-news coverage will be left up to the channel's executive producers, said Lack, who is putting Izzy Povich in charge of daytime coverage while former “NBC Nightly News” executive producer Pat Burkey handles the afternoon.

They will coordinate with NBC News Senior Vice President Mark Lukasiewicz, who oversees all event coverage for the division.

Williams will be seated at a desk on the third floor of NBC News headquarters in Rockefeller Center, where most of the MSNBC programs have their sets. But Lack said there have been no rehearsals and offered no details on exactly how Williams will be inserted into MSNBC’s daytime programs.

Lack said he is still deciding on how to expand MSNBC's morning program “Morning Joe” into the 10 a.m. Eastern time hour in a way that will appeal to West Coast viewers who are just getting up around that time.

He also has yet to finalize a program to fill the 6 p.m. slot that was held by Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been moved to Sunday mornings.

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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