Are you ready for this dog-and-pony show?” Tom Brokaw asks Brian Williams as the two sit down with PEOPLE’s Steve Erwin to discuss a network-news milestone: On Dec. 2 Brokaw, 64, will retire after 21 years anchoring NBC Nightly News. Williams, 45, who’ll replace him in the top-rated anchor’s chair, answers Brokaw’s question with another: “Who’s the dog?”
Brian, what advice has Tom given you?
WILLIAMS: Part of his advice is to stay rooted [with family]—like a cell phone at the end of the day; plug yourself in at home and get recharged. I walk in the door…my daughter Allison isn’t home yet from theatre rehearsal…my wife [former television producer Jane Stoddard, 47] may be home from a school board meeting … my son Douglas is usually doing math homework at the dining room table. Life goes on.
BROKAW: It’s not always easy. I’ve gotten pulled off a lot of vacations because stories were breaking. [He has been married since 1962 to Meredith Auld Brokaw.] And my three daughters—they’re now in their 30s—they just love to find that moment where they can say, “Well, you weren’t there! Do you remember that!?”
How do you see your relationship? Elder statesman to a young politico? Older to younger brother?
BROKAW: I think he sees me as Bob Cratchit, in some fashion. And he’s Tiny Tim. I’m a lot older than he is. All my friends are in rest homes now, and I go around visiting everybody, feeding everybody soft food…. But no, we’re professionals, colleagues.
WILLIAMS: But there’s just enough age difference between us for me to look up to Tom enormously. I remember the first time we were covering the same presidential debate. I saw him, and I thought, “Oh my God; I know who that is!” He’s on Rushmore.
Tom, what will you miss the most?
BROKAW: I’ll miss being in the middle of the action on a really big story. I’ve always felt it’s one of the reasons why I got involved in electronic journalism …the immediacy of it. Sitting out here with a big, breaking story and trying to pull all the elements together and make them coherent…. But I think Brian and I both understand that you’re there as a catalyst, and not the center of the story.
WILLIAMS: This isn’t soldiering, police work or firefighting—it’s not a lot of hard, dangerous things so many people do.
Of the things it is—is it fun?
BROKAW: It’s always fun.
WILLIAMS (looking at him and laughing): Are you kidding?
Tom, what’s the first thing you’re going to do when you’re officially retired?
BROKAW: I think I’ll go home and rearrange my sock drawer. It needs it. I’m going to really focus on some travel plans that I have up in the air at the moment. I’m going to go to New Zealand after the first of the year, and probably to India…. And I do a lot of fly fishing for saltwater and freshwater salmon and trout.
Have you two fished together?
WILLIAMS: We’ve never put a line in the water together! I’m so bad at it that it will likely never, ever happen. I may bring a handgun to a stream while he fishes—that would put us at about even skill level.