1) Take iTunes 11 out of "Geezer Mode" (i.e., "Hide Sidebar"). Please note: the first thing I did to iTunes 11 was turn Geezer Mode "on". I like Geezer Mode better than iTunes11 Mode.
2) Choose "playlists" if you're not there already (the horizontal list of things to do beneath the "current song" display).
3) Turn on Column Browser as you'd expect.
4) Re-enable Geezer Mode.
It's a bug, Apple. Fix it. This is just a workaround.
I am having 100% success with this workaround (lots of old playlists, a couple new). I hope it helped out more than 0% for you, though! If there are no songs in the playlist, it doesn't work--kind of a moot point. It's still a bug.
I found even in previous iTunes versions that sometime the Column Browser didn't seem to be working, only to find I could adjust the size of it by dragging the bar between the song list and the columns... look for the resize mouse pointer to appear as you hover ever so slowly. But, like I said... it's still a bug.