'Rock Center' EP: Bob Costas' Jerry Sandusky Interview Was 'Striking'

Bob Costas Rock Center Screen Grab - H 2011

Bob Costas Rock Center Screen Grab - H 2011

"We had an absolute imperative and requirement to conduct a thorough and challenging interview," says Rome Hartman. "And that’s what Bob did."

NEW YORK – Bob Costas’ interview with reviled former Penn State football coach and alleged pedophile Jerry Sandusky has provoked plenty of reaction and generated countless headlines. It’s also been an early shot in the arm for NBC’s Rock Center, which saw its ratings jump 30 percent week-to-week thanks to the Costas interview.

“We hope this the kind of ambitious, ground-breaking work that we’re going to do on a regular basis,” said Rock Center executive producer Rome Hartman.

The Monday night newsmagazine has been consistently last in the 10 p.m. timeslot since it bowed Oct. 31. Last night’s program was no exception; CBS’ Hawaii Five-O won the hour and Diane Sawyer’s interview with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords easily beat Rock Center, giving ABC's 20/20 a 2.8 rating in the 18-49 demographic.

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But the Costas interview, said Hartman, has generated congratulations from rivals and NBC News colleagues alike.

“The in-box is very full,” said Hartman.

The entire interview was conducted on the phone and was suggested at the last minute by Sandusky’s lawyer Joseph Amendola, who had a previously scheduled sit-down with Costas.

The interview was done in the “early evening” on Monday, said Hartman. Costas has been pursuing multiple players in the scandal that has rocked the university and led to an ignominious end in the career of legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno. And while the Amendola interview was always intended to air on Rock Center, the show’s production staff had to switch gears to accommodate the phone interview with Sandusky. The phone call lasted about about 20 minutes, said Hartman. (More excerpts were played on NBC’s Today Tuesday morning with additional audio featured on Nightly News.)

The interview featured Sandusky’s disembodied voice alternating between a tight shot of Costas asking questions and still photos of Sandusky, including pictures of him being hoisted on the shoulders of Penn State football players.

“We talked about how we could make [the interview] most effective,” explained Hartman. “The one thing I was absolutely determined about was that we not do anything visually that would distract from the powers of his words.”

Hartman said he had no qualms about giving a platform to an alleged pedophile who is already widely reviled for what is contained in a graphic and disturbing 23-page grand jury report.

“Obviously this was a guy who many, many people want to hear from,” said Hartman. “And what he had to say you, can apply many words to it, it was striking. Some of the answers just took your breath away. I think that we had an absolute imperative and requirement to conduct a thorough and challenging interview. And I think that’s what Bob did.”

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com
Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie