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Published:October 29th, 2011 21:42 EST
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Brian Williams Launches the New Newsmagazine Rock Center

By Paulette Cohn

 

It`s been a while since network news has launched a new newsmagazine show, but that is what NBC is going to do on Halloween night with the premiere of Rock Center with Brian Williams.

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Replacing The Playboy Club on Monday nights at 10 p.m., the news program will have a struggle to get ratings, but Williams told reporters in a conference call that the expectation is the show will grow slowly. Their initial goal is get on the air and stay there.

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Toward that end, the stories schedule to air the first night include a report on Chinese women who give birth to their children in the U.S. so their children will have citizenship, a report from Syria and a Harry Smith piece on a place in the U.S. where virtually everyone has a job.

Here is what Williams had to say:

Is this program a showcase for you or not? How do you see it?

Well, my bosses are allowed to say whatever they wish. I`m going to have the role on this thing that I think you can envision and imagine and foresee. This is going to be about the stories we air and the people telling them. In some cases that`ll be me but in most cases it`s going to be this correspondent corps we`ve been talking about. And obviously these are friends and coworkers of mine and at the conclusion of the story they tell, we`re going to probably sit around and talk about it. And there will be questions that will kind of pop into all of our heads as we watch these pieces.    

You have quite the all-star cast of correspondents lined up for the show such as Ted Koppel, Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry to name a few. Who else would you want to have on the show, reporters past and present, if given the chance?

I will say only cryptically " I`m not done. There are still some people on the whiteboard in my head that are out there and who I think could really, really turn some heads.

How did you land Ted Koppel? And would you be interested in hiring Dan Rather?

It`s been very exciting around here. We`re hiring people to put journalism on television. And you don`t get to start something like this more than once or twice in your lifetime. I think Ted was drawn to that. I think Dan is under contract to HDNet.

I`m looking at Friday`s ratings and the top rated show on Friday was 20/20 but it was a news magazine show about Mariah Carey`s babies and about Bernie Madoff`s daughter in law. It seems to me like one reason why we haven`t seen a network establish a new news magazine in so long is because it`s so hard to get good ratings for stories that are just about good journalism. So what gives you the sense that you can make a difference here when so many other shows like Dateline sort of started more serious and then kind of became crime of the week, scandal of the week, celebrity death of the week shows?

I`ll take a whack at this. We have a different charge. That`s never been part of our charge; it`s not why we were commissioned. And I just urge you to begin watching Halloween night and stay with us. Our charge was to put together the best broadcast of its type we could, get on the air and stay there. And we`re going to do interesting stories that are supremely unrelated to what you just mentioned.

Do you plan to keep addressing Ted Koppel by his last name?

You`re speaking of the elevator promo. I don`t know why we kind of came up with that on the fly. It seemed perfectly appropriate. We actually realized the day we gathered to have a little fun and shoot those promos the last time I had seen Ted in the flesh.  I had found a way to get into what was then still Saddam Hussein International Airport in Baghdad, probably invasion plus three days.

I slept on the floor of the Baghdad version of the learn-to-fly executive aviation terminal under a poster of Saddam Hussein on a cement floor. There were firefights going around all over the airport, planes were on fire. But when you got to get some rack time you`ve got to get some rack time.

And I woke up hearing the distinctive voice standing over me in his battle gear. Very surprised, having embedded with the third ID to find that we had entered quote, their airport. So that was the last time I saw Ted before the elevator promo.

Boy, I`d rather have him with us than against us. What a warrior, what a competitor, what a journalist. And that`s among the most thrilling developments in the development of this broadcast.

What is the set going to be like?

Nightly News will debut from one-half of it. We`re all going to be in one studio. This is one of the great studio sound stages in this building, Studio 3B, a previous home of a number of our broadcasts including Nightly News and Today over the years.

So we decided to just start fresh with my day job and my night job. And it is a beautiful working television studio. One end will be Rock Center; the other end is Nightly News.