“Rock Center” features an all-star cast of correspondents and contributors, including Ted Koppel, Meredith Vieira, Richard Engel, Matt Lauer, and Ann Curry.
NBC News held a phone news conference with The Reporters Who Cover Television this week to take questions about the new show.
But first, a network foursome — the head of NBC News, the show’s senior exec producer, the show’s exec producer and Brian Williams — wanted the reporters to know:
●This is the first time in nearly two decades that a news division has tried to launch a new newsmag.
●The timing is right, what with everything that’s happening around the world.
●NBC News is “uniquely situated” to take on such an ambitious project. (By that, they meant NBC News has MSNBC, CNBC, in addition to the No.-1 rated evening newscast, and the No. 1 morning infotainment behemoth, aka “Today.”)
The execs did not mention that NBC is mired in fourth place in prime-time ratings among broadcast networks — thanks mostly to the failure of its entertainment programming and a now-departed management that believed in programming to margins.
While they also did not mention that “Rock Center” is part of new owner Comcast’s campaign to stanch the bleeding, there was some talk about Comcast suits having come to them when they took over and asking them: “What car is missing in your garage that you’d like to have?”
NBC News President Steve Capus also wanted — in a big way — to manage expectations.
“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 blocks,” Capus said by way of opening the phoner.
“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 news outlet in prime time.”
(What about “Dateline,” you ask? Glad you did! “Dateline,” the execs on the call explained, is a very successful vehicle for reporting about crime stories. And with that, they felt the subject was closed.)
Capus also wanted to make it perfectly clear that the show would be moving from its Monday 10 p.m. berth — aka NBC’s former “Playboy Club” time slot — in the first quarter.
But, unlike reporting on the fate of the “Playboy Club,” he did not want to see any reports that “Rock Center” was being yanked from the night because of lousy ratings. It was preordained that Brian Williams would be yanked from the time slot to make way for Marilyn Monroe.
NBC announced ages ago that, in the first quarter, it would return its successful singing competition series “The Voice” on Mondays (from 8 to 10 p.m.) and that it would be the perfect lead-in for a new scripted show called “Smash,” which is being described as “ ‘Glee’ for adults.”
“Smash” is a scripted show about the mounting of a new musical on Broadway on the life of Monroe. Katharine McPhee stars as one of the Marilyn hopefuls; Debra Messing plays one of the musical’s producers; and Steven Spielberg is, in real life, one of “Smash’s” exec producers.
“I want that to be put out there now,” Capus instructed the reporters, “because, as I said earlier, I don’t have high expectations for the ratings performance of this [newsmagazine].
“Regardless of what happens on the ratings side, we’re going to move and that’s already been set in motion. So I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew that going in.”