David Zurawik

Brian Williams' 'Rock Center' needs more than new time period

I was going to be nice and NOT write about the NBC newsmagazine "Rock Center" moving to 9 p.m. tonight after a failed run at 10 Mondays with Brian Williams at the helm.

But then, NBC News sent out a press release calling special correspondent Chelsea Clinton and the rest of the newsmagazine team "the Cooperstown of NBC News." Remember the quote from the president of NBC News about Clinton having "prepared all her life" for her new job as a TV correspondent? (Yeah, she prepared by NOT talkiing to the press when she was on the campaign trail on behalf of her mother in 2008.)


How failed has this Brian Williams ego trip been so far? So failed that affiliates like WBAL-TV in Baltimore were publicly trashing NBC for providing such a wretched lead-in that it was driving viewers away from late local news at 11

As I explained in a Sunday column:


NBC's prime-time schedule has been a disaster of a lead-in for the 11 p.m. news at stations across the country. Nothing better typifies what stations like WBAL were up against than NBC's Monday newsmagazine, "Rock Center with Brian Williams," which features special correspondents such as Chelsea Clinton.

The last time it aired on Monday (Jan. 30), "Rock Center" drew a nationwide audience at 10 p.m. of 3.293 million viewers. Reruns of "Castle"(ABC) and "Hawaii Five-O"(CBS) in the same time slot drew 6.71 million and 7.45 million viewers, respectively...

Starting this week, in an attempt to mollify affiliates, NBC moves "Rock Center" to 9 p.m. Wednesday, where it will not be a direct lead-in to the late news.

In other words, it is moving to a place where it will do less harm to affiliate relations by drawing less than half what reruns on other networks do.

If it was doing great or even ambitious journalism, the ratings might not matter so much. But instead it is showcasing the likes of Chelsea Clinton doing the kind of poorly-reported, goopy feature no self-respecting affiliate in a Top 10 market would air.

But here's the passage from the release by NBC News that sent me to the keyboard:

"Rock Center with Brian Williams," offers viewers original, smart stories across a broad range of subjects. Anchored by Brian Williams, "NBC Nightly News" anchor and managing editor, "Rock Center with Brian Williams" features a roster that might be considered the Cooperstown of NBC News. From Harry Smith and Kate Snow to Meredith Vieira, Ted Koppel, Richard Engel, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Natalie Morales, Chelsea Clinton, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry - these award-winning correspondents join Brian Williams in providing a weekly destination for viewers looking for a different take on the world, and on the news.

See what I mean? What award exactly did Clinton win again? Help me out here?

Vieira has an interview with the woman who claims to have been a teenage mistress ofPresidentJohn F. Kennedy, and that might generate a rating blip-- or even bump -- tonight. But the problems with this ridiculously-hyped production run so much deeper.

This is a vanity project for Williams -- the network giving him a reward for all the money he is makiing for NBC by winning in the evening news race. Good for him in terms of winning.


But never have I seen a ratings win go to the head or any newsman or newswoman as they have with Williams. OK, Dan Rather started believing the network press releases, too, and became a puffed-up hot dog. That's part of what got him in the trouble with the report onGeorge W. Bushthat led to his forced retirement. No one could tell Rather it would not air until it was verified and vetted. But Rather never had ratings like Williams.

Still, I am sad to see someone who was as good a journalist at MSNBC and then, in his early days at the anchor desk of NBC News, became such a caricature of the pompous, self-important anchorman, sucking up to presidents and imposing his ego on those below with no regard for journalism.

They can move "Rock Center" form one end of the schedule to the other, but it will never be"60 Minutes"-- in ratings or journalism.