NEW YORK — Between the drumbeat of bad economic stories, two wars and a winter that won't quit, Brian Williams knows he's been anchoring a depressing "Nightly News" for a depressed audience.
Still, even he was shocked at the thousands of responses he has received in less than two days after asking viewers to suggest some good news to report.
"I'm looking at a stack of printed e-mails," Williams said Friday. "We have more stories than we could humanly cover if we combined all three network newscasts. It's hit an unbelievable nerve."
Williams said he's been hearing it repeatedly from people he meets on the street or viewers who send e-mails: The news is so bad every night that it's a burden to watch. Wrote one viewer: "We all know it's bad, but the news makes us feel like crawling under a rock."
He recently ran into colleague Al Roker on the street outside Rockefeller Center and was surprised that sidewalks normally crowded with tourists were empty.
So he made a plea seconds before the end of NBC's newscast on Wednesday: We're looking for good news. Nominate people doing good work, perhaps a random or regular act of kindness in a cruel economy, and we'll tell some of their stories.
He's heard about a man who keeps a full can of gas in his trunk and gives it to people who have run out of gas, asking only that they do the same for someone else. One woman goes up to strangers on the street and gives them money. A man nominated his landlord, saying he reduced the rent and even helps pay his bills.
"It really told me something," he said. "I have learned a lot. I thought I knew all there was about the good nature of Americans, and this was a flood."
Williams was set to read some of the letters on Friday's newscast and do stories from across the country next week from some of the suggestions. His "good news" idea runs the risk of being cloying, but Williams said a newscast, like a newspaper, has room for a diversity of stories.
One of his viewers recently wrote to urge Williams to begin and end each broadcast with some "good news" to lift people's spirits. He can't make any promises about the top of the newscast.
"We can get half of that right," he said. "We can give her half of her wish."