'Playboy Club' Replacement: Brian Williams' Man Cave

Patrick Kramer/NBC

In May, when NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt spoke about the network's new newsmagazine led by Brian Williams -- the Nightly News anchor, wry talk show visitor and repeat guest star on Tina Fey's 30 Rock -- he hinted that Williams' comedic side would be part of the show.

But when Rock Center premieres Oct. 31 in the 10 p.m. Monday slot vacated by quickly canceled drama The Playboy Club, executive producer Rome Hartman cautions that Williams will not be channeling Jon Stewart. "Brian has a very good wit and a sense of humor," Hartman tells THR, "but this is not a comedy show."

Rock Center will cover news and human-interest stories while avoiding sister show Dateline's true crime genre. NBC News personnel including medical editor Nancy Snyderman and chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel will contribute as their schedules allow, but Kate Snow and Harry Smith will get top billing alongside Williams. (Former Today co-host Meredith Vieira will not appear on the show during the first couple of months because of previous commitments.)

NBC News has built a set that insiders describe as a posh man cave with multiple anchor stations -- including one with a sofa.

Rock Center is the first broadcast newsmagazine launch in recent memory and long past the heyday of the format when such programs made news with major “gets” and commanded prime primetime real estate from network entertainment divisions. These days, most regularly scheduled newsmagazines are shunted to weekend hours and many of them are used to fill holes in the schedule.

But Hartman notes that Rock Center has received a “tremendous commitment” from network executives. “From [NBC Universal CEO] Steve Burke to [NBC News president] Steve Capus to Brian Williams and on down, there is a commitment that this program is going to be given every opportunity to succeed.”

Certainly the price tag for Rock Center is significantly less than a scripted hour; newsmagazines typically cost $250,000 to $300,000 to produce (not including anchor salaries), compared to $3 million per episode for a drama series. But there are no plans to expand Rock Center to plug additional future programming holes or use it as a money-saving gambit similar to the network’s aborted 10 p.m. Jay Leno experiment.

“One night a week is plenty for us right now,” says Hartman. “We neither want to be considered filler nor do we have any plans for world domination.”

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