As usual, everyone seems impressed by the journalistic prowess on display during the premiere Brian Williams's weekly newsmagazine on NBC, Rock Center, but the comedic coda to the hour-long show, however, might need to a rethink. In the meat of the show, Williams featured a segment from former Early Show contributor Harry Smith on the North Dakota oil boom, an item from Richard Engel on Syria and a scoop from Kate Snow on "anchor babies" in boarding houses — all admirable efforts, the critics seem to agree, worthy of 60 Minutes. Then Jon Stewart showed up and things got a little bit weird. Some people weird, deadpan humor (Williams' specialty). But some think it's just, well, weird.
TV Newser's Gail Shister more or less panned the premiere, especially Jon Stewart's cameo:
It's hard to be different. It's harder to be good. It's a million-to-one shot to be different and good.
Rock Center was, at times, different and good, but it didn't come close to being both at the same time. In fact, the embarrassing final segments with Williams and Jon Stewart made "The Playboy Club," which "Rock Center" replaced at 10 p.m. Mondays, look like "Meet the Press."
The Washington Post's Hank Steuver at called the show "assured, brisk and a tad bit sarcastic." He also loved the chemistry between Williams and Stewart:
To some viewers Rock Center may have looked like a smart attempt to reflect the way news consumers can shift gears. To others it will seem like dad’s desperate attempt to play cool.
"This I like," Williams said reaching out just before a commercial break to touch Stewart's hairy shin, which peeked from between the hem of his pants and sagging dress sock — a TV man's ultimate fashion nightmare. Stewart jerked his leg away in horror. By the time they came back from the break, Stewart had apparently learned that Williams wears socks that come up to his knees. Somewhere in there is a strange lesson in journalistic confidence.
Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, pleased so far, has a special request for a future show:
In general, Rock Center was lively without being crass, disappointing in not engaging much in the news of the day. It could also use a voice other than Williams' — what about some good old fashioned op-ed commentary or cultural criticism? Let's hope Williams makes good on his promise to bring the full force of NBC News to his show, and books, say, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on his broadcast to offer a report or a position paper. (She's worked well with reporter Engel in the recent past.)
Variety's Brian Lowry referred to the tone of the Stewart appearance as "wrong for this venue" and also seems unsatisfied by Rock Center, billed as a weekly newsmagazine, not addressing the news of the day:
OK, but couldn't you at least have jumped at one shiny thing? … Still, where Rock Center really seemed too chewy was its failure to reflect the day's events. Mercifully, the program didn't jump at the Kim Kardashian divorce, which I sort of feared going in. But wasn't there a way to do something smart -- and analytical -- about the allegations of sexual harassment regarding GOP presidential contender Herman Cain, if only in his day-long handling of the situation and the anatomy of how not to deal with a crisis from a PR perspective?
The A.V Club's Kevin McFarland actually talked about the show's journalism, which he loved, but couldn't help but take a swipe at that Stewart segment. His is a more balanced perspective than some of the other reviewers, however:
As a newsmagazine, Rock Center is kind of a cross between Time and Newsweek on television. It's fairly hard-hitting, centering on big issues that start big conversations. The brief interview segments offer a chance for Williams to show off how he can pick out what parts of a story need filling out, but the weakest segment turned out to be the final interview with Stewart. That segment was clearly set up to be the back 10 or so pages of a magazine, where all the short arts and entertainment pieces fall, after the serious news, but Stewart didn't play along, trying to go back to the incredible Syria story and Engel's skill at finding that story. It was a moment that didn't live up to the usual Williams/Stewart rapport viewers expect from the anchor’s appearances on The Daily Show.