Reporting Through The Aftershocks

Already in the midst of unprecedented change, the TV news business is in for perhaps even bigger jolts in 2011 1/03/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Aftershocks can shake things even harder than an
initial earthquake, and that’s what TV news insiders expect
to happen in 2011 following
an earth-shattering number of TV
news personnel changes in 2010. As
one TV news talent agent puts it: “We
are simply in the midst of more changes
than we’ve ever seen.”

Top television executives telegraphed
the tectonic changes in plain
English: Former ABC News chief
David Westin said the nearly 25%
staff cut he announced in February
was made to facilitate “fundamental
transformation”; CBS Corp. CEO Leslie
Moonves told a group of college
students “the Katie Couric deal will
be the last big deal of that kind ever
done”; and Turner Broadcasting System
CEO Phil Kent said CNN’s ratings
are “obviously a concern.”

Some of the biggest potential shifts
to watch for in 2011 are:

A CNN-CBS News Merger

CBS’ Moonves and Turner’s Kent acknowledged that they have tried
putting CNN and CBS News together. Both also told B&C in late
2010 they expect to revisit the idea.

Partnering two of the biggest brands in TV news would represent
a massive change to the landscape. As such, it’s a daunting idea.
Moonves told B&C in October the deal is “a tough nut to crack.”

But these are also executives and companies that have made revolutionary
deals before, together. And there’s no time like now to team
up with a like-minded partner. All signs point to these two restarting
their talks.

The Couric Question

Katie Couric’s pact with CBS News is up in May, and the going theory
is that she will re-up in some capacity. It’s not going to look like her
current, super-rich package; Moonves has made that clear. The CBS
chief also indicated the Evening News format needs a shake-up, having
told students at the University of Texas: “There is nothing that Katie Couric is saying [on her newscast]
that everybody doesn’t know already.”

While her run at CBS Evening News
has not been a ratings winner, Couric
is still one of the most bankable news
personalities. Her camp is shopping
options for her, which could include
the oft-speculated syndicated talk
show like the one Anderson Cooper
is slated to launch this fall.

The former Today show star’s appeal
to daytime audiences is undeniable.
And while conventional wisdom
doesn’t exactly indicate Couric
will be asked to pull a Diane-and-Charlie and go bail out CBS This
, this is the year to expect all cards on the table.

Where CNN Goes From Here

A big cut of the massive personnel changes in 2010 were
at CNN. Although Turner execs say CNN is enjoying record
profits, the ratings problem has to be fixed. Expect new
CNN U.S. boss Ken Jautz to take the tack that worked for
him at HLN—identify and grow a team of personalities to
front the network.

Whether Piers Morgan, who is stepping in for Larry King;
Eliot Spitzer, who is popping despite disappointing ratings
for Parker Spitzer; or a talent yet to be launched are the
future faces of CNN will surely play out this year.

ABC News and the New Guy

Westin passed the ABC News baton to author and former
Good Morning America producer Ben Sherwood late
last year, and the new guy is certainly unproven. Sherwood
takes charge at a time of supremely uncomfortable change
at ABC, so all eyes will be on him as he takes a whack at
re-forming the operation.

The overhaul could include forging the speculated alliance
with Bloomberg TV, which would not be as big of a
deal as a CNN-CBS News pairing, but could be a step toward giving
ABC a little room to amortize some costs.

Could Make Headlines in 2011:

•What Comcast will do with NBC News and MSNBC once the
NBC Universal deal goes through.

•What is Keith Olbermann’s future at MSNBC? Was the situation
with his suspension over political donations just a one-off, or the beginning
of Olbermann’s next departure from a big-name outfit?

•The rise of new figureheads—Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier and
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow are steadily establishing themselves as clear
number-twos to Bill O’Reilly and Olbermann.

•What may come of Nightline—will new ABC Entertainment
Group chief Paul Lee and Sherwood battle over the time slot like
predecessors Steve McPherson and Westin did?

E-mail comments to
and follow her on Twitter: @MelissaGrego


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