A news magazine with (really) news stories

A lot of things have been passed off lately as TV "news magazines." They've told old crime stories or new celebrity stories; the "magazine" part is right, the "news" part is iffy.

That's why tonight's arrival of "Rock Center" -- 10 p.m. Mondays on NBC -- seems important. By all accounts, this will be an actual, serious news magazine.


I'll try to have a review of it afterward. For now, here's the story I sent to papers:


In the world of TV news, this is a big
move: “Rock Center,” an NBC news magazine, debuts Monday (Oct. 31).

But wait … aren't there lots of those
shows out there? It depends on what you call news:

– One Friday (Oct. 21), ABC's “20/20”
thrived in the ratings. It did it with stories about Mariah Carey's
twins and Bernie Madoff's daughter-in-law.

– For the following Friday (Oct. 28),
NBC's “Dateline” planned a Las Vegas crime story from 20 years ago,
about a poker player and a beautiful trapeze artist. “'Dateline'
does a terrific job of covering those kinds of stories … real-life
crime stories,” said Steve Capus, the NBC News president.

– On Saturdays, CBS doesn't even
pretend to do anything else. Its show is called “48 Hours Mystery.”

Yes, the world has changed from the
days when everyone wanted to match “60 Minutes.” Back then, “48
Hours” meant the entire CBS News converged on a single, important
issue for two days.

That show began in 1988, a year before
ABC launched “Primetime” and four years before “Dateline”
started on NBC. “This is the first time in nearly two decades that
a news division has attempted to launch a new, primetime news
magazine,” Capus said.

He talks about doing “quality
journalism, stories that matter.” Rome Hartman talks of generally
doing two or three stories in an hour (one of them very current), but
being free to vary from that at will. David Corvo, the senior
executive producer, talks pf airing it live, with the ability to
quickly switch. “It has the opportunity to be more timely and more

The idea began when the Comcast cable
company was buying NBC, they said. The new owners asked what the news
people wanted to do; plans began for “Rock Center With Brian
Williams” – named for the NBC location (Rockefeller Center) and
for the anchor of both the newscast and this show.

Yes, there may be moments that reflect
Williams' droll humor, Hartman said. “There will be really
ambitious, hard-news stuff, but there will also be stuff that's more
observational, maybe a little cheekier …. Brian has a very eclectic
story set.”

That includes breaking news stories.
The producers talked about Williams' primetime coverage (on NBC and
MSNBC) of the Arab revolts, the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the
Japan tsunami and more.

Williams recalled one broadcast: “Ten
o'clock Eastern time, the situation in Cairo went to Hell,” he
said. “Richard Engel and I are on a hotel balcony, trying to stay
back from the railing, as to not get hit by ricochets while this gun
battle went on below us.”

Engel – whom Williams called “the
best war-time correspendent going” – will be a “Rock Center”
contributor. So will Harry Smith, Kate Snow, Natalie Morales and Dr.
Nancy Snyderman. All NBC reporters can contribute stories and
Meredith Vieira and Ted Koppel will be special correspondents.

That may bring memories of the years
when Vieira was a regular on CBS' “West 57th” and “60 Minutes,”
the decades when Koppel (until 2005) made ABC's “Nightline”
unswerving. It will remind us that news magazines really are
sometimes about the news.

– “Rock Center With Brian
Williams,” 10 p.m. Mondays, NBC, starting Oct. 31

– That spot opened up when “The
Playboy Club” was canceled; in January, Steven Spielberg's “Smash”
takes the spot and “Rock Center” moves to an unspecified night.

– Other primetime news magazines on
broadcast networks: “Frontline,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS (check
local listings); “Dateline” (NBC) and “20/20” (ABC), both 10
p.m. Fridays; “48 Hours Mystery,” 10 p.m. Saturdays, CBS; “60
Minutes,” 7 p.m. Sundays (unless delayed by football overruns),