Television newsmagazine programs were a dime a dozen two decades ago, but they have seemingly become gauche — that old warhorse 60 Minutes obviously excepted — in this scary, Snooki-fueled age of reality television. But ratings-challenged NBC, a network desperate to get anything to stick following one of the most disastrous fall campaigns in its history, is aiming to change all that, having reached across the news galaxy to recruit a dazzlingly deep bench of journalistic talent — including, among others, Ted Koppel, Meredith Vieira, and my beloved Dr. Nancy Snyderman — to contribute to their newest creation, a weekly news series entitled
Rock Center with Brian Williams, which premieres Monday night (October 31) at 10pm EDT. Another prominent name popping out of the Rock Center mix is that of veteran newsman Harry Smith. A recent defector from CBS News, where he has spent the lion’s share of his journalism career, Smith is probably best known for his pair of extended stints as a co-host of CBS’ ever-struggling The Early Show. But as his celebrated stint as the host of A&E’s signature program Biography amply suggested, Smith has a reporter’s eye and a great knack for sussing out a good story, and he stopped by the Buzz for an exclusive chat about his exciting new gig.
BRANDON’S BUZZ: You know, we lived through a period several years ago when the networks were throwing these kinds of shows up right, left and center, and then we moved into the Survivor / Biggest Loser / Idol era, and the newsmagazine essentially became schedule fillers and stopgaps. So I guess my first question is: why this show, why now, and why was this project attractive to a journalist of your caliber and credential?
HARRY SMITH: The folks at NBC first approached me about this almost a year ago, when it was just a germ of an idea, and I said, ‘Well, if you’re really serious about doing this, I want to be a part of it.’ You know, NBC kind of looked at what they had going: they have the number one morning show (Today), they have the number one evening newscast (NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams), they have the number one public affairs show on Sunday mornings (Meet the Press), and they [decided] there was only one piece missing, and that’s a serious weekly newsmagazine. So they asked me to get involved, and I asked a lot of questions — you know, ‘Is it really going to be staffed? Are you really going to fund it? Are you going to be serious about it?’ This is a big-time venture, and it feels to me like this is the last time a network is going to do something like this, but [NBC] really wants to get into the serious storytelling business, and I am flattered that they asked me to come along for the ride.