Seventeen years after grinding out two stories a day for Philadelphia’s WCAU, Brian Williams debuts tonight as anchor of “NBC Nightly News.” If he’s nervous, it doesn’t show.

“I’m truly not anxious,” says Williams, 45. “I’m going into this with the No. 1 newscast for a reason. This is an already humming machine.”

For 21 years, until Wednesday night, it hummed under Tom Brokaw, 64. Now Williams, Brokaw’s longtime backup and an 11-year network veteran, is the face of NBC News.

Smart, sassy and sartorially splendiferous, Williams is all business behind the anchor desk. Some say he’s too stiff. Too pretty. Too tan. Brokaw faced the same litany when he succeeded John Chancellor in “83.

“If I err, I err on the side of believing this is a serious business,” Williams says. “Frankly, I think there’s too much talk about “style.’

“I’ve been judged on the basis of my work filling in on Tom’s newscast. Of course, you’re different when you’re a guest in someone else’s home. … Like water, everything finds its own level.”

As the first new Big 3 anchor in more than two decades, the spotlight is blazing on Williams. It began 2½ years ago, when NBC announced he would replace Brokaw after the “04 presidential elections.

CBS, on the other hand, named no successor for anchor Dan Rather, 73, when it announced last week that after 24 years, he would step down in March from “CBS Evening News.”


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