NBC News says it is happy with Monday night's debut of its new newsmagazine, "Rock Center with Brian Williams" despite the expected lackluster ratings.
"We're feeling really good about the launch," NBC News chief Steve Capus told The Huffington Post during a run-in at — where else? — Rock Center. "It was a great debut, there's terrific buzz and I'm proud to see this news division launch something this big and important — and to add more quality journalism to primetime."
The show drew relatively modest numbers, premiering to 4.1 million total viewers and a 1.0 rating in Adults 18-49 demographic — which is, as Deadline notes, lower than both the premiere and average for "The Playboy Club," which it replaced, and lower than NBC's other newsmagazine, "Dateline." But NBC is emphasizing that Monday night's "Rock Center" debut gave the network its best total-viewers showing in the time period since September 19, beating the two remaining telecasts of "The Playboy Club," and that it was the only 10PM show to grow off its 9:30 lead-in.
But "Rock Center" was never about the numbers, as both Williams and Capus were sure to point out in advance of the show's debut.
"I don't mean to sound too precious but we've been putting this broadcast together not mindful of the entertainment shows that are going to kill us," Williams said recently. "I know we're going to get crushed. It's not a ratings thing."
And from a critical standpoint, the show's debut — which debuted with a Harry Smith report on a North Dakota town with negative unemployment, a Richard Engel report from Syria, a Kate Snow report on women traveling to the US to have babies and a live in-studio interview with Jon Stewart — has been a major success.
The New York Post's Linda Stasi declared the show "Solid as a Rock," describing the broadcast as "a news magazine at 10 p.m. that is so smart, so unexpected, so entertaining and yet so informative that you might think you just stepped back in time 20 years." The Washington Post's Hank Stuever wrote that it was "assured, quick-paced and enjoyably flavored with a few spicy dashes of Brian Williams's dry rub."
Somewhat ironically, given that it was presumably meant as a draw, much of the negative reaction to the show was centered around Williams' interview with Stewart. "It was — in a word — awkward," remarked The Daily Beast. And TIME's James Poniewozik, who otherwise described the show as "brightly produced" and asked "Why Isn't the Evening News More like This?" found the Stewart interview "uncomfortable."
"Williams and Stewart are both intelligent, funny men, but this proved that Williams does better as a guest on Stewart's show," Poniewozik wrote.
An NBC News insider said that the show's first effort was just that, and that viewers and critics alike should expect tweaks in subsequent episodes.
"You learn so much from a launch," the insider said. "We're happy with the foundation and how they got off the ground. You'll continue to see tweaks for the next 25 years."