I imagine if NBC really supports the program while it finds its stride, we all might be speaking well of the effort a decade down the road. But, truth to tell, I’m thinking “Rock Center” is already sinking like a rock and will be a fading memory in just a few months.
That’s a shame. I like Williams and think he’s a solid journalist who manages to bring both gravitas and a light touch to the evening news. If the rumors are true, he’s also a very likable, friendly and funny guy. He’s managed to show off that side of his personality on various late night talk shows, bantering with David Letterman and Jon Stewart, and even hosting Saturday Night Live.
Williams and the producers of “Rock Center” have offered up several interesting, even compelling segments on the first two shows – sneaking into Syria to get a behind-the-scenes look at an embattled people and country; exposing a cottage industry that plays to wealthy foreigners wanting to have “anchor babies” in the U.S.; profiling a woman in North Carolina who got caught up in a morally repugnant eugenics scheme that led to her being sterilized.
Here’s the problem. The Syria segment offered no new information and felt like a stunt – hey, look at us, we can sneak into Syria! The “anchor baby” story, outrageous and infuriating, involves only a handful of people and, like the eugenics piece, didn’t go deep enough. Both would have played better on the evening news.
If handled by that other, more successful news magazine, “60 Minutes,” the segments would have been fleshed out, featured more interviews and reportage and run three times longer. All of this can be fixed. The greater problem, cutting to the chase, is Williams.
He’s got a dry sense of humor that, in the right venue, makes him likable and fun to watch. On “Rock Center” he’s simply lame. His segues into segments, commentary and interaction with correspondents seem forced and contrived. The end of the show each week is, simply put, embarrassing.
Last week Williams spent a few minutes chatting with Jon Stewart. Last night he chatted with Tina Fey. Williams ain’t Johnny Carson. The very best I can say about the conversations are that they were silly. Actually, the banter was cringe-inducing nonsense. He and Stewart discussed Halloween, beer, their kids and, ahhh, socks. The ups and downs of “The Real Housewives” franchise was the focus of his conversation with Tina.
Because there is no audience, there’s no energy in the room. The small talk just sort of hangs in the air, met by an expansive wall of utter silence. About the only sound I fear echoing in the background is the clicking of remotes, viewers in search of something – really, anything – entertaining.