New CBS News President Sean McManus, who added the division to his sports responsibilities in November, appears to have convinced CBS Corp. Chairman Les Moonves to stick with a single-anchor format for the CBS Evening News.
In his first Television Critics Association session with reporters since assuming the news crown, McManus said Wednesday morning in Pasadena, Calif., that he favors a single rather than multi-anchor format and Moonves agrees “that what I want to do is the right thing.”
McManus’s goal is to find the “face of CBS News,” so viewers can look to that person in times of national crisis, State of the Union addresses, elections, and political conventions.
“I think having a primary anchor is the way to go,” said McManus, adding that he did not want to change the CBS newscast dramatically.
McManus acknowledged that he and Moonves, who in previous interviews had suggested all sorts of formats were under consideration, had “gone back and forth” on the issue. But McManus said the focus now is on improving elements of the newscast.
“We’re going to try to break more stories, have better correspondents, put on a program that puts the world’s news in [better] context,” he said.
While multiple anchors may be right for ABC News (Nightline has three, World News Tonight two), McManus said he sees “no reason to tear up a format and break the mold” that has worked well at CBS for decades. “You have to do a better job of reporting the news, putting it in better context,” he said.
Still, McManus said Moonves’ comments served the industry well: “I give him credit for saying we’re going to try something new…shake up the business.”
Because the former CBS News regime did not do enough to showcase its correspondents and provide them with a bigger profile, McManus said the next anchor will “probably” have to come from outside CBS News to replace Dan Rather, who has remained a correspondent for CBS 60 Minutes since retiring as anchor last March.
McManus indicated he has not yet had time to meet with Rather to discuss his future at CBS.
To avoid news anchor succession problems in the future, McManus said he is moving to enhance the profiles of select correspondents and increase their ranks to utilize one of them if the new anchor needs to be replaced at some point.
He asserted CBS News had not “defined the role of correspondents in the past as well as we should have with respect to specific beats and showcasing them so people are used to seeing our best correspondents on a regular basis.”
McManus said no decision has been made on who the new anchor will be, and refused to provide a timetable.
He would not confirm or deny that Today show co-host Katie Couric is the lead candidate, but suggested in response to a question that the network would possibly not name a new anchor before May, when Couric's contract expires. He did, however, say there is a short list and would not rule out someone who is credible that comes from outside the network newscast ranks, say a well-known morning or cable talent.
McManus emphasized “we would not be having this conversation” if current anchor Bob Schieffer, who is credited with helping to boost the nightly newscast’s numbers, wanted to remain long-term.
Schieffer’s contract lasts another year and McManus said the newsman has told him that, though he would prefer to “slow down,” he is willing to stay beyond his deal’s expiration until CBS finds the right person.
McManus said he is still unsure whether the new anchor would have the managing editor title, which would involve determining overall strategy, and that he might be willing to let “him or her” do a handful of stories for 60 Minutes if it did not detract from their primary duties. He noted the cross-promotion could be beneficial for the new anchor and the newscast.
The executive took issue with 60 Minutes correspondent Andy Rooney, who recently complained on CNN’s Larry King that CBS should use the money that would go toward a huge salary for a new anchor to instead hire dozens of new reporters and reopen foreign bureaus.
“The amount of money we pay to the anchor will not have any effect on the amount of money we spend on other resources at CBS News,” McManus said. When he took the news job, he said, he told Moonves that he did not want to be “outmanned or outgunned” by the competition, and that in order to stay competitive he would “go to Les and get more money.”