Brian Williams Takes on Night Shift With ‘Rock Center’

by | October 25, 2011 at 11:56 AM | Interviews, Rock Center With Brian Williams

Brian Williams (NBC)

Brian Williams (NBC)

Yes, Brian Williams, you can keep your day job.

Well, technically it’s evening, but that’s not the point.

The real point is, according to Williams, juggling two shows won’t be all that hard for the NBC “Nightly News” anchor, who will pull a weekly late shift on “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” a live, hour-long newsmagazine that debuts Monday, Oct. 31 at 10/9c.

“I’m finding a way to work all this in,” Williams said Monday in a conference call with reporters, crediting executive producer Rome Hartman’s “Sully-like calm” with keeping things steady as Williams tries double-duty.

The real challenge? Figuring out the whole once-a-week thing, as opposed to working each night off the hour’s top news.

“I call myself ‘the day-of-air dog,’” Williams said.

Not that the show will lack timeliness. With Williams and a stable of well-respected correspondents, “Rock Center” intends to deviate a bit from the traditional newsmagazine format — namely, executives say, focusing a little more on big current topics than evergreen documentary-style stories.

Watch Williams Ham It Up In A Promo For “Rock Center”:

Here are a few more things to watch for as the new program rolls out…

On the stories we can expect: On that conference call — which featured Williams, Hartman, Steve Capus (NBC News president) and David Corvo (senior executive producer) — there was talk of what might have been had this show existed in previous months. Take the late January/early February Egypt uprising, which saw Williams travel to Cairo and report frequently for MSNBC. “Boy,” Williams said, “it would have been great to additionally have a broadcast network platform at 10 o’clock eastern time.”

So that’s the type of story “Rock Center” is after.

As for crime? Celebrity interviews? Profiles? Those, too, will factor in. Probably. “I don’t want to rule any stories out,” Hartman said, “except stories about which there is nothing smart to say.”

On the presence of Williams: The self-deprecating (and occasional “30 Rock”-guest-starring) Williams won’t admit as much, but show executives consider the anchor-slash-managing editor vital. “It wouldn’t work without Brian,” Corvo said. “That’s one of the first things we told our bosses. Because Brian has that broad range of curiosity and interest, from the most serious story to some of the silly ones.”

Of course, he insists he’s the star in name only. “My bosses are allowed to say whatever they wish,” Williams said. “[But] this is going to be about the stories we air and the people telling them.”

On those people telling them: Williams calls the collection of talent “Cooperstown.” As in, Hall of Fame. And it’s easy to see why, with an all-star list of correspondents — some of them regular, some of them special. Included: Harry Smith, Kate Snow (both to be regulars), Ted Koppel, Meredith Vieira (not every week, but key), Natalie Morales, Richard Engel, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry. Really, they say, anyone from the NBC news crew could contribute to the show.

Williams also has an additional wish list (“I will say only cryptically … that I’m not done,” he said, adding “there’s still some people on the white board in my head”). But for now, he sure is happy to have all of them – particularly the legendary Koppel. “I’d rather have him with us than against us,” Williams said. “What a warrior, what a competitor, what a journalist.”

On ratings: Ratings? What ratings? Everyone from Capus on down insists this isn’t about drawing a number. “We’re not going to sit here and predict for you that we’re going to be a smash-hit right out of the starting box,” Capus said. “In fact, I actually think it’s going to be the opposite. We’re not doing this as a ratings play; we’re doing this as an attempt to give NBC news … an important outlet in prime time.”

Actually, it won’t even stay in its time slot, moving to a different (and undisclosed) one next February as the musical show “Smash” takes over. So the focus, “Rock Center” people say, is on the show and little else. “All we’ve been told,” Williams said, “is to go do the broadcast we’d like to watch, the broadcast we’ve always wanted to work on.”

And debuting on Halloween: “We are actually counting on that kind of post-candy euphoria,” Williams said.

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