When Lester Holt visits Florida next week, it won’t be a vacation. But it will take the regular “NBC Nightly News” format for a short trip.
The veteran host will visit Fort Myers Beach and Miami early next week and will spend a significant amount of time on each of the two nights covering news and issues surrounding those locations.
“There are a lot of stories to tell in Florida, not just politically, but also from an environmental, tourism and storm recovery perspective,” Holt says in an interview. He’s traveled to Fort Myers before when a hurricane was coming through the city, but “the idea is to visit places when they’re not necessarily having their worst day.”
On Monday, Holt will examine how insurance companies may have bailed out residents whose property was severely damaged by Hurricane Yang, while Sanika Deng, anchor of NBC’s Orlando affiliate WESH, will talk about how climate change is affecting Florida’s tourism industry. On Tuesday, Holt will look at blue-state families who moved to red Florida, while NBC News’ Gabe Gutierrez looks at the state’s national political profile and NBC-owned WTVJ’s Constance Jones talks about Barrington Irving, the first black and most young pilot to fly alone around the world.
Viewers won’t miss the big news of the day, Holt says, and “Nightly” can pivot when a national story dominates the cycle. However, the focus on Florida is indicative of the host’s continued willingness to experiment with a format many consider one of the most hidden in the industry. With only 22 minutes or so on the air – the rest of the half hour is dedicated to commercials – the evening newscasts are largely limited to their task of giving viewers a fact-checked and succinct summary of the day’s biggest stories. .
There’s nothing wrong with learning the terrain. “We’re in a state where we need more ways to report the news,” said Bob Schieffer, who hosted both the CBS Evening News and Face The Nation during his long career. “Good luck to anyone with an idea like this,” especially one that takes viewers away from the familiar environs of New York and Washington, D.C.
Holt tried to stretch his new muscles. In 2020, he launched a Kids’ Edition of Nightly, which continues to this day. In recent broadcasts, Holt spoke with the “Sesame Street” characters about understanding mental health and watched the birth of a rare antelope at the Oregon State Zoo. He also worked with the closing “Nightly,” giving dark national moments something more reflective and nuanced than the typical mellow cue. A day before the 2020 presidential election, he told viewers that “democracy is messy, but we have to let it work,” especially for “our children who, you know, are watching us.”
His latest initiative comes as a restructuring of NBC News could leave more room for agility. Under the auspices of Cesar Conde, NBCUniversal’s head of news, NBC News was split into three separate divisions: “Nightly” and the streaming channel “NBC News Now” under one group under the leadership of Janelle Rodriguez. She pushed Nightly, Holt says, “to make more big swings on the air.”
Still, not even Lester Holt can shake things up much. “I’ve always felt that the way people get our news is going to evolve,” but the program itself has to meet the audience’s expectations. NBC’s Nightly News is, like its counterparts on ABC and CBS, one of the most popular programs on television, which means there are only so many changes any anchor or producer can make, and few of them are radical. . When Katie Couric took over the CBS Evening News in the fall of 2006, the network made several tweaks aimed at bringing the show into the modern era, complete with a guest opinion segment. She recounted in her 2021 memoir, Going There, how CBS eventually returned the newscast to its regular format.
“It’s hard to change the format for the demographic that watches the evening news,” Couric says in a text message. “You can’t do anything too dramatic, as I discovered when I got this decree on CBS.”
Some tried new ground. In February, Norah O’Donnell broadcast two episodes of the CBS Evening News live from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the South China Sea. Couric once made an entire program devoted to the war in Afghanistan. On one occasion, Holt broadcast “Nightly” from a helicopter for the entire broadcast, despite a stack of papers scattered throughout the cockpit.
The crew of “Night” has already tried deep dives. Holt filmed a series called Across America, in which he traveled to a new location each day and offered a longer view. But doing it over many days proved taxing, he says, and he thinks a shorter period might work better. He says he would consider issues in New England, or perhaps delve into a specific topic rather than a region of the country.
“We have a little more room” to try new things, Holt says. “Audiences are changing,” he says, “and we try to meet them wherever they are.”