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Fall TV: NBC's `Rock Center' news magazine survives low ratings

Anchor Brian Williams
It helps to have friends in high places.

NBC is renewing the Brian Williams-anchored news magazine "Rock Center" despite a dismal ratings performance in its freshman season. According to Nielsen, "Rock Center" averaged less than 4 million viewers this season. That's less than half of what NBC's legal drama "Harry's Law" averaged and it was canceled. Among the coveted 18-49 demographic, "Rock Center" had only 1.2 million viewers compared with 1.75 million for "Harry's Law." The difference: NBC owns "Rock Center" and its star is NBC News anchor Williams, while "Harry's Law" comes from Warner Bros.

Not only is the show coming back, it is even getting a promotion of sorts. Currently on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m., "Rock Center" is moving to Thursdays at 10 p.m., a more important time slot because movie companies and auto dealers spend heavily on that night.

The move to 10 p.m. says as much about NBC's faith in its new and returning dramas as it does about "Rock Center." Once home to critical and commercial smashes including "ER," "L.A. Law" and "Hill Street Blues," the Thursday 10 p.m. slot has become a wasteland for NBC. Last season both "Prime Suspect" and "Awake" flopped in that time period.

NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert acknowledged the low ratings of "Rock Center" in unveiling NBC's fall schedule to reporters in a conference call. However, he noted that when he was a senior executive at ABC, it took several season for news magazines "Prime Time" and "20/20" to establish itself with viewers.

"They've done some fantastic work this year," Harbert said, citing a Bob Costas interview with former Penn State coach and accused child molester Jerry Sandusky and a special report on the one-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden.

Another factor in "Rock Center's" favor was that news magazines typically cost less to produce on a per-episode basis than a drama.

RELATED:

NBC unveils fall lineup

CBS picks up new shows for fall

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "Rock Center" anchor Brian Williams. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

 
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