The chairman of NBC News, Andrew Lack, will depart his role at the end of May, NBC Universal said on Monday, an abrupt end to the tenure of an executive whose tenacity and ability to withstand turmoil made for a long career in the fickle television news business.
The announcement brings to a close Mr. Lack’s tumultuous time at the helm of NBC News, during which he oversaw a turnaround in marquee properties like the “Today” show and the cable channel MSNBC while grappling with a cascading series of controversies, including the toppling of the star anchor Matt Lauer in a sexual harassment scandal and questions over the network’s coverage of Harvey Weinstein.
Cesar Conde, the chairman of Telemundo, will effectively replace Mr. Lack. As the chairman of the NBC Universal News Group, a newly created position, Mr. Conde will have oversight of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC.
Mr. Conde, 46, has impressed NBC Universal’s chief executive, Jeff Shell, with his stewardship of Telemundo, the Spanish-language network that has made strides under his leadership in catching up with its chief rival, Univision.
The president of NBC News, Noah Oppenheim, and the MSNBC president Phil Griffin will both report to Mr. Conde, who will relocate to New York from the Telemundo office in Miami.
Mr. Lack had been widely expected to leave NBC News by the end of the year, though rumors of his imminent exit have swirled for years. Change at the top of NBC Universal’s corporate hierarchy may have prompted his exit.
Mr. Shell took over NBC Universal as its chief executive at the beginning of the year, replacing Stephen B. Burke, who had resolutely backed Mr. Lack, even as controversies mounted. Mr. Shell was more inclined to make a quicker change at NBC News, according to two people with knowledge with his thinking.
Mr. Shell made other changes on Monday, including appointing Mark Lazarus as the head of the company’s entertainment properties, as well as its new streaming service Peacock. NBC Universal, which controls theme parks and a large advertising business, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and Mr. Shell suggested last week that the company was looking at cost-cutting
When Mr. Lack was brought back to NBC News in 2015 — he ran its news division in the 1990s before decamping to a job in the music industry and at Bloomberg News — his brief was simple. Fix MSNBC. Fix the “Today” show. Fix “Meet the Press.” And find an elegant way to push out or resurrect Brian Williams, the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” who had been suspended after fabricating stories about his time in the field.
In many ways, Mr. Lack succeeded. MSNBC had the highest ratings in its history, benefiting from a surge of interest in cable news during the Trump administration. “Today” and “Meet the Press” have stabilized. And Mr. Williams has served as the host of election night specials and “The 11th Hour,” a popular MSNBC late night show.
But Mr. Lack’s stormy tenure is likely to be defined more by its controversies than its successes.
Since the evening in 2017 when Mr. Lack traveled to Mr. Lauer’s Manhattan apartment and told the “Today” anchor he had been fired, Mr. Lack has had to confront questions over what he and other NBC News bosses knew about the anchor’s alleged history of sexual misconduct. (Mr. Lauer has denied the allegations against him.)
Mr. Lack has repeatedly said that he knew nothing of Mr. Lauer’s allegedly inappropriate workplace behavior, and said that he fired Mr. Lauer immediately upon first learning of an assault allegation against him in November 2017, just as the #MeToo movement was gaining steam.
A subsequent internal NBC Universal investigation exonerated Mr. Lack’s handling of the matter. But the company has been harshly criticized for declining to hire an outside law firm to conduct the review. Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s biggest star, went so far as to question the credibility of the review in an on-air monologue.
Mr. Lack also faced withering criticism for why the network allowed Ronan Farrow, a onetime reporter for NBC News, to take his Harvey Weinstein sexual assault reporting to The New Yorker, even though he had been working on the story for months at NBC. Mr. Farrow would go on to share a Pulitzer Prize for his work in the prestigious public service category.
Rich McHugh, Mr. Farrow’s producer at NBC, told The New York Times in 2018 that he had been instructed to stop reporting on Mr. Weinstein, and that the order came from “the very highest levels of NBC.”
Mr. Lack and Mr. Oppenheim, the NBC News president, repeatedly denied that they tried to quash Mr. Farrow’s reporting, arguing that what he had while reporting for NBC News was substantially different from what he ended up with at The New Yorker.
When Mr. Farrow’s book, “Catch & Kill,” was released last year, it brought his experience at NBC to the fore. Ms. Maddow was among the people at the network’s news division who were publicly critical of Mr. Lack and the NBC News leadership team.
“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in this company since I’ve been here,” Ms. Maddow said on the air in October, before she invited Mr. Farrow on as a guest. “It would be impossible for me to overstate the amount of consternation inside the building around this issue.”
On Monday, Mr. Farrow tweeted, “Andrew Lack is stepping down, after public protests calling for leadership change and a unionization effort within the company demanding more transparency about harassment issues there. Grateful to the sources who spoke.”
Before the Weinstein controversy, Mr. Lack was questioned for his decision to hire Megyn Kelly away from Fox News. He created a Sunday evening showcase for the anchor and gave her in a prominent role on “Today.” Ms. Kelly was eventually forced out of the network after an embarrassing on-air gaffe.
NBC also faced questions in 2016 about why it did not break the story of the “Access Hollywood” audio recording that showed Donald J. Trump, then a candidate for president, making vulgar comments about women. “Access Hollywood” was part of the NBC Universal family, and NBC News had access to the tape, but declined to go with the story before The Washington Post beat the network to it.
Through a representative, Mr. Lack declined to comment.
The future of Mr. Oppenheim, the NBC News president, is likely to rest on his new relationship with Mr. Conde, who will take over as the chairman of the NBC Universal news group immediately. Mr. Oppenheim signed a new multiyear contract with the network last year.
Mr. Lack published a story on the NBC News website last week trumpeting the importance of journalism amid a pandemic, when the news media is under attack.
“During times like these, as millions of people turn to the news for answers, the choices we make about what to air and how to report it can make the difference between panic or persistence, and even life or death,” he wrote. “Humbled by the responsibility we bear, we try our damnedest to serve our audience.”