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Brian Williams, His Unexpected Re-Invention  
Brian Williams Opens Up About His Unexpected Re-Invention: 'Second Acts Are Possible, with a Little Spiffing Up'
Brian Williams: 'Second Acts Are Possible, with a Little Spiffing Up'  
Last month, The 11th Hour, now a full hour, five nights per week, celebrated its one-year anniversary. Meanwhile, Williams is enjoying what appears to be a rare second act in a very unforgiving business. He may not be anchoring the p.m. news, but he appears nonetheless reinvigorated. In his new life, he gets to work a few hours before the time he would have been leaving work a few years ago. He begins his day by speeding through that day’s episode of Morning Joe, which he records, before diving into e-mails and texts from his staff of around 12 news-obsessed millennials. Williams, who splits his time between homes in Connecticut and New Jersey, plus an apartment in Midtown, then works on the show until airtime, writing and re-writing his scripts himself, as he did when he anchored Nightly News. “What happened was an acute time in my life, and I had put a lot of people through a lot. I knew I needed to get back,” he said. “I am grateful for every day.”  
Williams is, on some level, a man of conflicting identities. On the one hand, he is one of the most recognizable men in America, who occasionally eats sandwiches in his office with his friend Tom Hanks before his show goes live. (Hanks, in fact, officiated his daughter’s wedding ceremony two years ago, after Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa, sang them a love song. Williams sat out an evening of his own show earlier this month to attend the opening night of Springsteen’s Broadway debut, during which, Williams admitted, he repeatedly looked down the row to fellow Jersey boy Jon Stewart to see if he was crying any less. It was a wash, he said.) At the same time, he still goes to the same Jersey Shore stock-car track where his dad took him. A number of fire helmets line the walls behind the desk, including his yellow rookie helmet. (He began volunteering at 18.) His desk is adorned with a pair of brass knuckles, a gift from “a fellow high-school graduate who succeeded in life,” and binoculars, “in case we have an incident,” like when two New York Rangers players were skating outside earlier this week. “I’ve never been on skates a day in my life. Skates or skis. I never had an opportunity growing up.” Williams then reminded me that he never graduated from college.  
Williams spent “the troubles” doing a lot of reflection, and talking “to the kinds of people in the America I grew up in.” He drove across the country and took advantage of the opportunity to get re-certified as a firefighter. In fact, one of the only public appearances he made during his suspension was a fund-raiser for his New Jersey alma mater, Mater Dei Prep. “They’re all me and it’s home,” he told me, referring to the guys he sees changing engines at the stock-car races. “It took me 30 years to discover what’s written in thousands of books. I’m happiest when I’m home.”  
Television is, in many ways, a fading medium. And yet the set of The 11th Hour is impervious to the fog of declining ratings or aging audiences that plagues 6 p.m. The pressure is lower, as is the overhead. It’s also a sweet gig for a former primetime broadcaster. And yet Williams, at his stage of the game, appears to be building something rather than managing its decline. The show was first in the demo and in total viewers in the most recent quarter, according to NBC. Fox News announced last month that it is going to launch its own 11 p.m. show. “Having the 11 has elevated the network and upped everyone’s game,” MSNBC President Phil Griffin told me. “When Brian came back as a breaking-news anchor, we talked for a long time about if he should really be contributing in a daily way. And then he did the primaries, and by day two of this show, we knew it was exactly what that hour should have.”  
By 10:40 p.m., it was almost showtime. His staff started piling into a cramped control room hidden deep within the 30 Rock maze. Technically, there was no reason for them to all be there, other than they all wanted to be part of it, to answer Williams when he asked for a Yankees score update or to drum along with the show’s opening music. About 10 minutes before the show, Williams made his way to studio 3A to tape the opening lines and greet the guests waiting for him on set, just beyond the newly buffed, uncovered terrazzo floor. “The metaphors are many and obvious,” he said. “We all stand on great things here—and second acts are possible, with a little spiffing up.”  
Read more: Brian Williams: 'Second Acts Are Possible, with a Little Spiffing Up'  
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