Williams’ ‘Rock Center’ Gets Off to Rocky Start

One of the producers of NBC’s “Rock Center,” Rome Hartman, promised during a teleconference that the newmagazine premiering Monday wouldn’t jump at “every shiny thing” just because it was live.

OK, but couldn’t you at least have jumped at one shiny thing?

Playing ringmaster for NBC correspondents and promising to exploit “the worldwide resources of NBC News,” anchor Brian Williams presided over the festivities with his usual easy-going charm. He even closed with a too-casual interview with Jon Stewart, which involved way too much kibbitzing and not enough substance. Fine for “The Daily Show,” where Williams is a frequent guest, but wrong for this venue.

Still, where “Rock Center” really seemed too chewy was its failure to reflect the day’s events. Mercifully, the program didn’t jump at the Kim Kardashian divorce, which I sort of feared going in. But wasn’t there a way to do something smart — and analytical — about the allegations of sexual harassment regarding GOP presidential contender Herman Cain, if only in his day-long handling of the situation and the anatomy of how not to deal with a crisis from a PR perspective?

That’s just one example, but the mix of stories, while sober, felt too soft. Harry Smith on an oil boom town in North Dakota. Richard Engel — in easily the most compelling piece — about the situation in Syria. And Kate Snow with a once-over-lightly look at “birth tourism,” which provided scant insight on either the scope of the problem or the meat of the pros and cons.

Not that you’d know it from Williams’ cheerleading banter with the correspondents, which was basically an extended “Atta boy” to each of them. Frankly, I could have easily done without the Snow segment and gotten more of Engel, the Stewart chat, and Williams’ own light-hearted but interesting piece on a better way of boarding passenger planes.

The producers have not only admitted that “Rock Center” is a work in progress but have done all they can to set the bar low on ratings expectations. Since newsmags generally feed pretty well into local news and few of NBC’s dramas are setting the world ablaze, the show ought to have time to find its proper balance. And some of the hires, foremost among them Ted Koppel, reflect seriousness and savvy.

Still, when WIlliams joked about celebrating the program’s anniversary 25 years from now, if he’s honest with himself, I think even he’ll have to admit this wasn’t one for the archives.

Rock Center With Brian Williams airs at 10 p.m. Mondays.

Senior executive producer, David Corvo; executive producer, Rome Hartman; anchor/managing editor, Williams.

 

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