Monday, July 11, 2011

Harry Smith Joins NBC News Magazine; Will this Program be Hard or Soft News?

Harry Smith, who announced he was leaving CBS last week, has been named an NBC correspondent who will contribute to the network’s new prime time news magazine to be anchored by Brian Williams.

The program, NBC promises, will not be a new version of Dateline NBC, but will have a harder news focus.  The network’s prime time ratings were down 15% this season from the previous year and it has a number of holes to fill in its line-up since cancelling the likes of Undercovers, Outlaw, Chase, The Cape, Perfect Couples, The Event, Law & Order: LA, Outsourced and America’s Next Great Restaurant.  So a cheaply made news program vs. entertainment is in order.

So will it be real news?

There is reason to believe that NBC will try to attain a reputation for this program not unlike the one now held by the vaunted 60 Minutes.  NBC’s news release said the new magazine will be an exciting showcase for journalistic excellence saying it will be a live broadcast built around the week’s biggest and most interesting events, meaningful and in-depth stories, and timely newsmaker interviews.  It adds that there will also be groundbreaking, constantly evolving digital editions of the magazine available online and via the show’s iPad app.

NBC has promised that other top names at NBC News, including those at MSNBC will contribute.  There aren’t many in the NBC group who are slouches, unless they draw down to Kathie Lee Gifford, host of the fourth hour of Today.

Further, the program’s executive producer will be Rome Hartman who was an executive producer at the BBC who previously worked at CBS.  He is the person who launched the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.  But don’t hold that against him.  He also worked at 60 Minutes and has won numerous awards.

But the network has also said the show will highlight the “fun side” of Brian Williams, who has been known to turn up on 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live where his anchorman’s stiffness disappears.

According to Robert Greenblatt, NBC Entertainment Chairman, “it’s about being relevant and engaging and also entertaining, which is what Brian uniquely does.  It’s his sensibility, personality and skill that can inform this.”

“First and foremost [Williams] is a newsman,” said Greenblatt. “But at the same time he has a really fun personality that I think can enliven a newsmagazine show [in a way] he can’t do on the evening news.”

Hmm.  So is it news or not?

While the network promises the lighter side of Bri-Wi, I’m sure the real answer is that NBC does not yet know exactly how this still unnamed show will play out, but it intends to be serious. 

While all news magazine viewership has been down, with the exception of a flat (ratings-wise) 60 Minutes, there is room for a news program in prime time that informs with a bit of humor, but does not turn the news into a circus side show like some others before it.

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