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Lack was born in New York City to a Jewish family. He attended the Browning School, a private school in New York, studied at the Sorbonne, University of Paris and graduated from Boston University's College of Fine Arts in 1968. After graduation, he appeared as an actor in numerous television commercials and an off-Broadway production.
After graduating he worked as a producer of TV commercials, joined CBS News in 1976, following the next year with 60 Minutes and from 1978 until 1985, produced CBS Reports. He also served as correspondent on The American-Israeli Connection in 1982. Lack worked with Bill Moyers during the early 80s, as producer of both Our Times With Bill Moyers (1983) and Crossroads (1984).
In 1976, Lack was hired by 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt at CBS News as a producer for the personality-driven television show Who's Who. That led to a job as a producer for 60 Minutes. Lack produced such segments as "Inside Afghanistan" and "Kissinger and The Oil Embargo." He wrote and directed the segment "The Real Malcolm X: An Intimate Portrait of the Man."
He later became the executive producer for CBS Reports, where he stayed for seven years, followed by a four-year stint starting in 1985 as the executive producer of West 57th hosted by Meredith Vieira, a long-format news program.West 57th was known for mixing new storytelling techniques and topics with the same journalistic standards as 60 Minutes. During the course of the show he conducted an extramarital affair with one of his correspondents, Jane Wallace, who described him as "almost unrelenting" in his pursuit of her. After the affair ended, she says Lack threatened her career and the network paid her for a non-disclosure agreement; a source close to Lack denied the allegations.
Lack was hired as president of NBC News in 1993, in part to restore credibility to the news division, after it was discovered the news program Dateline had faked an explosion during a truck safety segment.
After Bryant Gumbel left the Today show, Lack replaced him with Matt Lauer. Lack also moved Today into a new, $15 million street-side studio, known as Studio 1A. With Lauer as anchor, Today became the highest-rated morning news show for the next 16 years. The cable news network MSNBC was also created under Lack.
In 2001, Lack left the news division to become president and chief operating officer of NBC, the television network.
Lack joined Sony Music Entertainment in 2003 as Chairman and CEO. Amid sharply declining sales in the music industry, Lack cut the staff by 25% to about 6,000 people.
In 2004, Lack led a merger with BMG. Lack became CEO of the new Sony BMG, a 50-50 venture with Germany's Bertelsmann that resulted in the second-largest music company in the world.
At Sony BMG, he pushed the company further into video, including television programming, and had to contend with the erosion of sales because of music file-sharing services such as Napster. In 2005, he signed Bruce Springsteen to a $110 million contract.
In 2006 he became the chairman of Sony BMG. He later created SonyBMG Films, a division that produced numerous titles including Cadillac Records starring Beyonce. In 2008 he left the company.
In 2008, Lack returned to broadcast journalism, joining Bloomberg as CEO of its Media Group, running television, radio and digital properties, including 11 television channels internationally.The New York Times reported that he cut losses in half and doubled revenue. He became chairman of Bloomberg Media Group in 2013 and stayed with Bloomberg until 2014.
Lack rejoined NBC News and MSNBC in 2015 in the aftermath of a crisis generated when NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams was suspended without pay for six months for misrepresenting events which occurred while he was covering the 2003 Iraq War. NBC News also faced a decline in ratings for Today and poor ratings for MSNBC.
Lack named Lester Holt as the new anchor of NBC Nightly News to replace Williams. The show became a ratings success, coming in first for the full 2014-2015 season (four months of which were anchored by Williams).
After Williams' suspension was over, Lack decided to bring him back as the breaking news anchor for MSNBC as part of a shift toward hard news in that network's daytime programming. Lack announced closer collaboration between NBC News and MSNBC, cancelled three opinion-based daytime MSNBC shows, and gave Meet the Press host Chuck Todd a daily afternoon program called MTP Daily. MSNBC ratings subsequently improved in the first quarter of 2016, with daytime viewership up by more than 100%. Lack also unified the digital operations of NBC News and MSNBC under a new division head.Today became the first-place morning news show, surpassing Good Morning America in total viewers as of March 31, 2016, following a six-month lead among the 25-54-year-olds.
In January 2017, Lack announced the hiring of Megyn Kelly away from Fox News saying in a memo, "She's demonstrated tremendous skill and poise, and we're lucky to have her." Kelly was reportedly being paid between $15 million and $20 million a year at NBC for both a Sunday evening show and the mid-morning Megyn Kelly Today, along with election coverage. In late October 2018 Business Insider reported that Kelly would depart the network following controversial remarks on the nature of blackface.
In 2019, investigative journalist Ronan Farrow reported that Lack downplayed a human resources complaint of rape against NBC anchor Matt Lauer in 2014. Lauer was not fired until late 2017. Farrow also reported that Lack had ordered Richard Greenberg to scuttle reporting on the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations because "It [was] an Andy decision." Farrow later published his work in The New Yorker. Farrow also reported that NBC News hired a "Wikipedia whitewasher" who removed references to NBC's role in the Weinstein case from several popflock.com resource articles, including Lack's.