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Brian Williams is temp replacement for Russert on 'Meet the Press' on Sunday

June 19, 2008 |  1:43 pm

NEW YORK — NBC executives decided today that “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams will host “Meet the Press” this Sunday as the network ponders a permanent replacement for moderator Tim Russert.

After nearly a week of mourning the loss of Russert, who died of a heart attack on June 13 in NBC’s Washington bureau, the grief-stricken network news division began to focus on the difficult task of identifying his successor.

Aside from Russert’s role as the host of the most-watched Sunday political talk show, the 58-year-old served as NBC’s Washington bureau chief and the network’s go-to analyst of this year’s presidential campaign.

UPDATE:

In an interview this afternoon, NBC News President Steve Capus said he has not made any decisions about who will step in for Russert on “Meet the Press” beyond this week, much less how to fill the other roles he played at the network.

“Tim is truly irreplaceable, and there’s no single person who can step in and do all this,” Capus said. “So we have a considerable list of roles that need to be filled. We’re just going to take them one at a time.”

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Biden, who were scheduled to be interviewed by Russert on “Meet the Press” last weekend, will be Williams’ guests on Sunday. It’s unclear who will host the program on June 29.

“Right now, we’re looking at it week by week,” Capus said. “Brian is enormously talented, and it seemed like a logical place to turn for this weekend. But I haven’t been able think beyond that.”

In the days since his death, the question of who will inherit Russert’s moderator chair has been the subject of intense speculation in the television industry.

NBC News Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory, PBS’ Gwen Ifill and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews are considered contenders. NBC Political Director Chuck Todd is also viewed as a possible pick.

At Russert’s memorial service in Washington on Wednesday, longtime anchor Tom Brokaw made a passing reference to the chatter, saying that Russert would have been impressed by the audience assembled in the Kennedy Center, which included “the powerful, the ordinary, and the largest contingent of all in this room, those who think that they should be his successor on ‘Meet the Press.’ ”

In the interview today, Capus noted Russert’s outsized role in the news division, saying, “I don’t think you can go long without having someone step in and take on those responsibilities.”

But he said he has not figured out how long it will take to settle on Russert's successor.

“Tim had a 12-year contract, and we always thought that that’s one area we wouldn’t have to think about for a long, long time,” the news president said. “Just even trying to fathom it and come to a decision point –- it’s impossible to switch gears and begin doing that. It’s just too daunting and too overwhelming.”

Still, Capus acknowledged that “our friend would have wanted us to get on with it, and we will.”

On Friday, Russert’s colleagues in Washington will gather outside the bureau to raise the flag back up from half mast, where it has hung since his death.

“We believe that it’s a sign that it’s time to let the mourning give way to going forward,” Capus said.

-- Matea Gold

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