Before Brian Williams was the Emmy-winning anchor and managing editor of NBC “Nightly News,” the 55-year-old struggled to even find a job after dropping out of college.
Now earning a reported a
$10 million annual salary, Williams went bankrupt in his early 20s after “a failed experiment in local news.”
It wasn’t until a news director in Washington, D.C. took a chance on him that Williams resumed his on-air career years later.
MediabistroTV spoke to Williams about his big break and success after failure.
Growing up in New Jersey, 'It was very clear all along that I had to work, I had to support myself. I was working a series of jobs and I had an epiphany (after dropping out of GWU) that I had to at least try something that I always wanted to try.'
'My late mother always used to say about people on local news in New York, 'I think you could do better than some of these people.' I don't know what she based that on, but I loaded up what few belongings I had and moved to Pittsburgh, Kansas.'
'I worked at a small television station for 13 months and started making $US168 a week for a 7-day work week.'
'I decided that, after 13 months at this TV station, surely the other stations in the area were pining for my talents. I took a number of days off and burned those days off in a number of waiting rooms at stations in Missouri, Tulsa, Wichita, Topeka, and got laughed out of the major markets. I couldn't get hired.'
'I had a resumé, reel, tape -- nobody was buying it, nobody was digging it. There were a lot of people just like me and I was unexceptional.'
'My experiment in small market television failed. I went bankrupt, I had to work out deals with all of my credit card companies to pay them down $US10 or $US20 a month. I was borrowing money, I lost my car. I was, by any standard, poor.'
'I decided the only place where I could be guaranteed a job was Washington, D.C. -- where I had worked (as an intern with the administration of President Jimmy Carter) and spent about a third of my life.'
'I saw a classified ad at channel 5, the independent station in Washington, which was then a Metromedia station.'
'The ad was for a weekend chyron operator (TV graphics). I had never operated the chyron machine, but I'd done everything else at the station -- operated the cameras, swept, covered sports, weather, and of course, news. So I figured I could learn chyron.'
'I brought the ad to WTTG TV newsroom and said to the first person I met, 'I'm here to meet with the news director, is he in?' and she said, 'You're talking to her.' So that didn't start well.'
'The staff would gather in Betty's office to watch the broadcast and they would talk about it afterwards. I developed a friendship with the news director (Betty).'
She said to me, 'They tell me you used to be on-camera in small market TV news,' and I said, 'Yes, it was a failed experiment.' She asked, 'Who's the worst reporter on the staff that you've seen?' And I thought for a moment, looked to make sure the door was closed, and I gave her the name, haven't repeated it since then. She said, 'You're right, that reporter is coming off the air and I'd like you to start, I'd like you to cover Northern Virgina.''
'I went on the air in the 9th largest market in the country. And I decided this was it, these things don't happen outside of (Frank) Capra films.'
Despite his demanding career, Williams still finds time for his wife of 27 years, Jane Stoddard Williams, son Douglas, and his 'Girls' actress-daughter, Allison Williams.
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