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Rock Center: Can Brian Williams make hard news a primetime hit?
NBC's attempt at reviving the news magazine genre rests on the shoulders of its venerable (and jocular) Nightly News anchor
 
Brian Williams' primetime news magazine show, "Rock Center," debuted on Halloween night, and featured an interview with guest Jon Stewart.
Brian Williams' primetime news magazine show, "Rock Center," debuted on Halloween night, and featured an interview with guest Jon Stewart.
Charles Sykes/NBC

On Monday night, for the first time in two decades, NBC launched a primetime news magazine show: Rock Center with Brian Williams. Filling the slot last occupied by the ill-fated Playboy ClubRock Center, hosted by the famously witty NBC Nightly News anchor, featured news segments by correspondents Kate Snow and Richard Engel, and a talk show-like interview with Jon Stewart. The news magazine genre once dominated network TV, as the shows cost relatively little to produce, turning even middling ratings success into major profits. But increasingly, networks eschewed news shows in favor of reality TV series, which are equally cheap to make but far bigger ratings draws. Does Rock Center make a case for a news magazine renaissance?

Yes. It should be the model for all news programs: "Why isn't the evening news more like this?" says James Poniewozik at TIME. Rock Center mercifully skimped on the type of melodrama and headline chasing that typically defines news shows. Instead, it offered "a few brightly produced and quasi topical features," like a reporter's journey into Syria and a deeper look at North Dakota's oil boom. Our around-the-clock news cycles typically leave evening news telecasts to rehash news you heard about hours — or even days — ago. But there's really no need for network news shows to focus on those headlines, and Rock Center knows it.
"Rock Center with Brian Williams: Why isn't the evening news more like this?"

No. The show lacked buzz: The premiere was "solid as a rock," says Matt Roush at TV Guide. Unfortunately, it was "often just about as exciting" as a rock, too. Nothing about the program "had the 'must-see' feel you often get from CBS' 60 Minutes." There was simply nothing electrifying about this debut — making the show feel "more like something you might tune into if nothing else was on." And realistically, "when is that ever the case?"
"Roush Review: Rock Center"

It all depends on Williams: "Brian Williams has two faces," says Alessandra Stanley at The New York Times. One belongs to the suave and reliable NBC Nightly News anchor. The other is the appealingly witty comedy performer who cracks wise in guest spots on 30 Rock and banters with Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart. Williams "has tried to reconcile his two identities" in Rock Center, packaging news segments around his "loosened-tie persona." That didn't always work. His clowning around with Stewart fell flat at times, while not every news piece was as enlightening as it should have been. Still, the show is "a work in progress," and Williams may be just the newsman to pull this tricky balance off.
"An anchor loosens his tie, and his persona"

 

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