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Archive for Thursday, December 15, 2005

CBS Evening News’ showing a new energy

Bob Schieffer raises ratings while Katie Couric courted

December 15, 2005

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— While waiting to hear from Katie Couric, the "CBS Evening News" has been showing signs of life.

Bob Schieffer's newscast is still third in the ratings behind NBC and ABC, but is the only one of the three with an increase in viewers compared to one year ago. Last week's average audience of 8.3 million viewers was nearly 1 million more than the same week in 2004, when Dan Rather was still anchor.

"I think we're doing a pretty good newscast right now," said Schieffer. "We're trying to do the news in the kind of language that people talk and understand."

The improvement has come while the show is essentially being run by lame ducks: Schieffer is the interim anchor while CBS management courts Couric for the job, and executive producer Jim Murphy announced last month he was leaving, to be replaced in a few weeks by Rome Hartman.

"We've been on a steady upswing," Murphy said. "It's not a fluke. It's a good broadcast with a good anchorman and it's a broadcast that fits him well."

Ratingswise, the show hit its low point last April, one month after Schieffer took over, when the weekly average of 6.1 million viewers was the lowest in Nielsen Media Research records for the "CBS Evening News."

Since the summer, when the broadcast was looked upon as a laboratory for new ideas for its next incarnation, Murphy said he and Schieffer have been left pretty much alone.

"It's left us free to do what we think is right instead of doing everything that we think someone wants us to do," he said.

Schieffer, who continues to commute to Washington each weekend to host "Face the Nation," said new CBS News President Sean McManus has brought a new energy to the division, after a few years where it seemed to be "standing still."

The courtly anchor has brought a more conversational style to the newscast, where he frequently questions correspondents on-air about the stories they have just told. Schieffer said it has helped showcase correspondents like Lara Logan, Byron Pitts, Trish Regan and Lee Cowan.

"I sort of look at myself as a player-coach," he said. "My goal is to find the next generation of CBS News correspondents and nurture them and put everything in place for when they reach the next plan, whether it's Katie Couric or whoever."

CBS' rivals note that this year's ratings numbers may be skewed because they're being compared to some of Rather's darkest days following CBS' botched story about President Bush's National Guard service. CBS may also have benefited from the transition at ABC News, where Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff were just named as replacements for the late Peter Jennings on "World News Tonight."

"I think there is a lot of chaos in the industry right now and we've exploited it just by doing what we think is right," Murphy said.

There's a good chance Schieffer, 68, will reach at least a full year as interim anchor. Asked by McManus, Schieffer said he promised to keep doing it for as long as he's needed.

Schieffer said he's rooting for Couric to jump from NBC News, too. "I'd love to have Katie as part of CBS News," he said.

"I'd love to have her in whatever role she wants to play. She's a professional, she has real credibility and she'd bring strength to whatever role she wanted to play."

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