Brian Williams put on an informative, even entertaining show Monday night with the debut of his new prime-time news program “Rock Center.”
The show aired at 10/9c, the time slot formerly occupied by “The Playboy Club,” which was the fall season’s first canceled series.
“Rock Center” seems designed to take advantage of two NBC assets. One is its location at midtown Manhattan’s storied tourist mecca, Rockefeller Center, hence the title “Rock Center.” NBC already has another show named for its headquarters building, “30 Rock,” and, of course, “The Today Show” broadcasts out of a streetside studio in the famed office complex.
The other asset is Williams himself, anchor of the nation’s highest-rated evening newscast, NBC’s “Nightly News,” and a news personality known for his sense of humor, particularly when he engages with late-night hosts such as Jimmy Fallon or David Letterman.
Maybe that’s why the debut of “Rock Center” even featured an in-studio guest from late-night television, Jon Stewart. We wondered if Stewart was a second choice behind NBC’s own Jimmy Fallon, since Williams appears so frequently on Fallon’s “Late Night.” But Jimmy was busy taping a guest appearance uptown on Conan O’Brien’s TBS show, which is doing a week of shows from New York. Gee, late-night TV sure is complicated these days, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, here’s how the four feature stories on the debut of “Rock Center” stacked up:
1) In a story that may have actually been helpful to many, Harry Smith reported on an oil boom in western North Dakota that is creating thousands of high-paying job openings in the region. It was a story well worth telling.
2) Correspondent Richard Engel did a story from inside rebellion-ravaged Syria, where he interviewed dissidents who were fearing for their lives. Engel, who speaks Arabic, was seen sneaking into Syria — an act we’re not sure we’re on board with. On the one hand, kudos to him for his swashbuckling, courageous journalism. But if he’d been caught by Syrian authorities, there would have been an international incident with ramifications for many. It should be emphasized here that he wasn’t caught.
3) This story was about a scientist who had devised a more efficient way to get passengers boarded and in their seats on airplanes. Williams “reported” it personally.
4) Kate Snow reported on wealthy, pregnant Chinese women who pay thousands of dollars to come to the U.S. to have their babies — ensuring their children’s U.S. citizenship. It was an illuminating story about a controversial issue known as “birth tourism.”
Then there was the Stewart “interview” in which the host of “The Daily Show” and the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News” joked about each other’s socks.