Journalism

‘NBC Nightly News’ Celebrates 70 Years

The Peacock Network celebrated the 70th anniversary of the ‘NBC Nightly News’ this week. The program began in 1948 when it was known as the ‘NBC Television Newsreel.’

On February 16, 1948, the ancestor of NBC Nightly News made its debut as a 10-minute newscast. Seventy years later, two of the anchors who have led NBC’s evening newscast over the decades toasted the program’s Platinum anniversary.

Lester Holt, the current anchor of the broadcast; and Tom Brokaw, who held the job for 21 years, toasted the program’s longevity this past Wednesday.

“I look around this room and I look at the different generations who have had their hands in this broadcast, and it stands for something,” Holt said. “What I see in this room are individuals who are there for the viewers and for each other.”

Noticeably absent from the celebration was Brian Williams, the man who anchored the newscast from the time Brokaw left to the time Holt took over.

If you go by title alone, NBC Nightly News is 47 years old.

The NBC Television Newsreel became The Camel News Caravan the year after its debut and expanded to 15 minutes. John Cameron Swayze anchored the program back then because, as David Brinkley would later explain, he had the ability to read through a script and then recite it word-perfect: an important talent in the days before decent TelePrompTers were an option.

In the 1950s, Camel Cigarettes reduced the number of days per week they served as sponsor, making way for The Plymouth News Caravan some days of the week.

But in 1956, the Caravan was replaced by The Huntley-Brinkley Report anchored in New York by Chet Huntley and in Washington, D.C. by Brinkley. The program expanded from 15 minutes to 30 minutes on September 9, 1963, a week after The CBS Evening News did so.

Huntley and Brinley’s partnership was a viewer favorite and continued for 14 years until Huntley decided to retire.

All of the was almost entirely before my time.

When I was about nine months old, back on August 3, 1970, the program was retitled NBC Nightly News and it was now Brinkley teamed with John Chancellor.

In 1971, Chancellor was named sole anchor, but in 1976, NBC paired Chancellor and Brinkley together again. That lasted until 1979. Brinkley left NBC in 1981 and Chancellor stepped down as anchor in 1982, moving to Brinkley’s commentator role until he retired in 1993.

Brokaw took over as anchor in 1982 with Roger Mudd sharing anchor duties until 1983. Brokaw continued until his retirement in 2004.

Williams was named as Brokaw’s successor and anchored the broadcast until 2015 when a scandal erupted over claims he had made about his time covering stories in Iraq and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans that seemed to be in conflict with the truth. Later that year, Holt was named as Williams’ replacement.

These days, I mostly watch CBS, but I grew up in a town with a particularly strong NBC station, so I have fond memories of Chancellor and Brinkley because, along with CBS’s Walter Cronkite, that’s what my folks mostly watched.

Still, any program that can endure this long in a medium where some new shows can’t even make a full season deserves a salute.

Which of the ‘Big Three’ network evening newscasts are you most likely to watch?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.