Doug Williams knows what some people think when they see him on SNY and learn of his family background, and he does not blame them. The trick is disproving their assumptions.
“I think that’s part of the motivation,” he said. “Can people think at home, ‘Yeah, I’m sure so-and-so only has his job because of who his parents are?’ Yeah, they’re allowed to think that. It is obvious people do think that.
“The bottom line is that once you’re in your role, either you’re good or you’re not. That’s what drives me: Be good, because then no one has any reason to question you.”
Williams’ father, Brian, was the longtime anchor of the “NBC Nightly News” and now is seen on MSNBC. His older sister, Allison, is one of the stars of the HBO series “Girls.”
Doug, 25, has been at SNY since late 2014 after starting at YES, where he did “10 different things,” mostly on the digital side.
Gradually he has taken on more visible assignments at SNY, now anchoring “SportsNite” and serving as a weekend Mets studio host and fill-in on-site reporter at Mets games.
He hosted an offseason show, “Baseball Night in New York,” that has become a segment of the news show in-season.
It is heady stuff for a former high school pitcher who grew up a Yankees fan in New Canaan, Connecticut, and can’t imagine living or working anywhere other than the New York area — and in any business other than sports.
“I am so lost in how lucky I am right now to have the role I do,” he said when asked about his aspirations. “I am really, really happy to be stuck in the now.”
SNY executive producer Curt Gowdy Jr. first encountered Williams when Gowdy’s daughters played on a travel soccer team with Allison, then heard from him again years later when he was at YES and sought career advice.
The conversation resulted in a screen test and eventually a job offer on modest early assignments. By last October, he was hosting the first half of a two-hour pregame show before playoff games at Citi Field.
“He accelerated very quickly,” Gowdy said. “He’s a smart young man. He’s mature, he’s poised and he really knows the New York landscape in terms of sports.”
As the son of a famous media father himself, Gowdy could relate to Williams on a personal level, although in Gowdy’s case, he opted early on for a job behind the camera, in part to blaze his own trail.
“When you carry a famous name,” Gowdy said, “you’re out to prove yourself and outwork the person next to you in a very competitive way.”
Williams’ preferred career path as primarily a studio host naturally invites comparisons. He is fine with that.
“I think I’ve been incredibly fortunate in a lot of ways in my life and there are the obvious ways that his job has been, since I was very little, very beneficial in a lot of ways,” he said.
Still, he said, “From a very young age, my parents have instilled in us, you don’t want to feel like anything’s going to be handed to you. It’s from their upbringings. Neither of them grew up wealthy. They don’t want me to think I’m entitled for any reason. I would like to think, whether at YES or SNY, people would tell you I worked for everything I’ve gotten.”
Williams said it was “thrilling” to hear Gowdy tell him his work at YES was what got him interested. “When I was at YES, I tried to work really hard to be a hustler,” he said.
Early last year, Brian was suspended for six months from “Nightly News” after exaggerating his role in a helicopter episode in Iraq, and later was said to have mischaracterized other events from his reporting past.
“It was obviously a tough time for myself and my family,” Doug said. “I didn’t know this could happen, but the one silver lining of what happened was that it brought our family even closer together. We were there for each other and there for him, and it was tough, but here we are, and as a family we’re better than ever.”
Williams said his father does not critique his work.
“My relationship with my father is more like the relationship of a best friend than a mentor and mentee,” he said. “I don’t finish shows and he’s like, ‘Hey, in the B block, you should have done this.’ That’s never happened.
“From the years of watching him do his job, I’m sure I’ve picked things up. People always talk about that lean that I do on the desk that he does and how there are similarities in the sounds of our voices. But it’s not that type of relationship. I will finish a show and he’ll be like, ‘Wow, [Max] Scherzer’s stuff was nasty.’ It’s more like that.
“I don’t think he’s holding back on things he would like to change or holding back on advice. I just think he likes what he sees and he really enjoys watching it. He’s watched almost everything I’ve done. If he’s not there watching it, he DVRs it. It’s been really fun to share that with him.”
(Brian declined through Doug to be interviewed for this story.)
Williams said his family is “incredibly” close and that it helps that his mother, Jane, and father both have been in the television business. And now he has his sister, who is 28, as a role model for handling a rising public profile.
“From her, what I’ve learned is that she hasn’t changed from where we are and when she graduated from college,” he said. “She’s no different. She treats people with such respect. She has handled every interview and appearance with such grace, and that’s something that I admire.
“It just goes to show, she’s had a lot of success at a very young age and she’s been a perfect example-setter for if I were to reach that level of success someday, just how to handle myself.”
If that happens, Williams intends for it to happen in sports. “I’ve found that it doesn’t ever feel like work,” he said. “I know that sounds clichéd, but when you’re at home, you do what you want, and what I want to do is watch sports.”
He credited Gowdy, SNY vice president Brad Como and producers such as Alex Halter and Chris Farina for putting him in the right jobs at the right times and for helping him as he learned the ropes.
The first time he hosted a studio show that required serving as a “traffic cop” to set up others, he realized that was the role he enjoyed best. But being on a station primarily known for its baseball coverage is a bonus.
“I know when SNY hired me that they liked that I’m a young guy who’s really into baseball,” he said. “I guess, even though I don’t really know this, that they’re running out of those . . . It makes me sad because when I was younger, I wasn’t [saying], oh, this game is so slow. I just loved it. I wasn’t worried about time. I just loved the game and still do.”