Sources claim CBS boss used possibility of Brian Williams hire to get Norah O’Donnell to take less money to remain on ‘Evening’

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CBS reportedly attempted to use former NBC anchor Brian Williams as a pawn in an attempt to get “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell to take a pay cut when she re-upped with the network, reports The Daily Beast.

According to Beast sources, CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani talked with Williams twice about becoming the new face of “Evening.” That information was then allegedly leaked to the media in an effort to paint the picture that O’Donnell’s job could be on the line.

Khemlani denied to The Beast that he ever “met” with Williams about a role on “Evening,” though such inquiries often start with execs reaching out to agents to gauge interest.

Speaking of agents, O’Donnell’s reportedly fired back by reaching out to Chris Licht, who was, at the time, getting ready to take over CNN about a role for O’Donnell there, but Licht apparently declined to pursue further discussions before his start date (which was May 2, 2022).

The discussions never got any farther, so it’s not clear if there was ever any thought given to where O’Donnell could fit in the schedule — though possibilities perhaps could have included the network’s struggling morning show “New Day” the 9 p.m. hour or the now-defunct CNN+.

In the end, O’Donnell ended up negotiating a new deal with CBS that is reportedly worth less than her previous contract and will keep her as anchor “Evening” through the 2024 elections.

It’s not immediately clear how much of a cut O’Donnell took or if any of her fringe benefits, such as wardrobe allowance, which was reportedly $65,000, according to New York Post sources, a figure O’Donnell’s team denied.

O’Donnell has also reportedly caused buzz inside the network about a full dress rehearsal of the broadcast each night, something that’s a rarity in network news and allegedly leaves staffers frustrated about getting content in on time, according to The Post. She’s also reportedly gotten on the bad side of hair and makeup people and has been coached by producers to seem “more human” on camera.

O’Donnell has fallen on challenging times after the network moved “Evening” to Washington, D.C., billed as a way to put O’Donnell closer to the center of power, though the move was at least partially fueled by the fact O’Donnell’s primary residence is in the area — she had been commuting to anchor “CBS This Morning” for years.

The end result was a show that’s still not performing well and CBS execs were reportedly looking to cut down the cost of the broadcast.

Execs reportedly mulled changing anchors again, including talk that “CBS Mornings” co-anchor Tony Dokupil might take over, but ultimately the network didn’t go with that option.

In reality, the network may have realized it didn’t really have any viable options waiting in the wings to take over and decided to keep things consistent instead in hopes that ratings might improve or to give it time to nurture a successor.

It’s also possible that the whole plan was simply to spook O’Donnell’s team into capitulating to a lower contract and the network never really had any real plans to replace her — and may have even leaked the Williams story without any merit, though this is purely speculation (but stranger things have happened in the network news wars).

Over the next few years it could be interesting to see if the network gives existing staffers a tryout on the “Evening News” anchor desk when O’Donnell is out, though it’s possible O’Donnell has the right to approve all of her substitutes as part of her contract.

O’Donnell could also could end up building up an increase in viewers that might make CBS happy. Her broadcast is currently looking for a new executive producer who could shake things up.

“Evening” typically finishes in a distant third place, so it’s probably unlikely it could reach “NBC Nightly News” or leader “ABC World News Tonight” in space of a little over two years, however.