CBS News ‘revolution’

HOLLYWOOD – CBS chairman and chief executive Leslie Moonves on Tuesday said it’s “very possible” that retiring anchor Dan Rather will be replaced with multiple hosts on the “CBS Evening News,” and he didn’t rule out asking Comedy Central host Jon Stewart to play some role in the newscast.

Moonves’ comments were the strongest indication that the network was seriously weighing the benefit of having more than one anchor in the chair. Given the competition from the Internet and cable news, he said, the network is exploring several ideas, including placing multiple anchors in different cities.

Appearing in an open forum for the first time since dismissing four news staffers connected to a “60 Minutes Wednesday” story, Moonves was peppered with extensive questions at the semiannual Television Critics Association meeting in Universal City.

He defended the network’s handling of the aftermath of the flawed “60 Minutes” report about President Bush’s military service, calling it a mistake that will lead to changes in the news division.

An independent panel report on the Bush story released last week, as well as Rather’s scheduled exit March 9, gives CBS “a great opportunity” to re-examine the role of its news division, Moonves said.

“We’re looking from top to bottom at how things are done,” he said. “The world is very different than it was when Walter Cronkite was in the chair.”

Under Cronkite, “Evening News” was long the No. 1 network newscast. But CBS has been ranked No. 3 for most of the last 20 years.

Moonves noted that the network has had some success with its “Early Show” ensemble of four co-hosts and that “there can be a parallel drawn to the evening news.”

CBS and other networks have experimented with multiple anchors before, with mixed results. Rather and Connie Chung co-anchored “Evening News” from 1993 to 1995. Barbara Walters co-anchored “ABC Evening News” with Harry Reasoner from 1976 to 1978; ABC later installed an “anchor team” with Frank Reynolds, Peter Jennings and Max Robinson.

Early speculation about who might replace Rather, either as a single anchor or as part of a team, has included ABC’s Diane Sawyer and the “Today” show’s Katie Couric.

Noting that the average age of news viewers among broadcast and cable networks is “way over 45,” he said that “one of the things we’re looking at is how do we make (the newscast) younger (and) more relevant. …

“We have to do something really different to get people’s attention,” Moonves said. “As opposed to an evolution, maybe we’re dealing with a revolution.”

Younger people aren’t watching the news on television, Moonves said. But Stewart’s “Daily Show” has more appeal for those viewers, which may explain the CBS executive’s willingness to view a “fake news” anchor as a potential participant in a real newscast.

“Jon Stewart is part of our company. We speak to him regularly about all sorts of different things,” Moonves said. Comedy Central, like CBS, is owned by Viacom.

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