Editors' Note: The following interview with Sean McManus was conducted on Thursday, June 5, prior to the death of his father, Jim McKay, on Saturday.
As chief of CBS’ news and sports divisions, Sean McManus oversees plenty of moving pieces. And while this past week he named a new head of The Early Show and helped land the high-profile Inside the NFL for Showtime, one thing he says he is not going to do is put Bob Schieffer on the Evening News desk again.
McManus talks to B&C’s Marisa Guthrie about these moves and what’s next, including who will handle convention coverage and an upcoming CBS Sports reorganization.
You recently persuaded Bob Schieffer to postpone his retirement. How else may you use him besides political coverage?
It’s just a continuation of his current role at CBS News, both on Face theNation and [appearing on] the Evening News and The Early Show with political coverage. But nothing new is anticipated as far as his role at CBS. He’s got enough jobs already, and that’s probably the way it’s going to continue.
So he won’t be filling in on the Evening News desk again?
No. That is not anticipated, just a further extension of his current role.
You also recently weathered another spate of piranha-like media speculation about Katie Couric’s future. At what point does this type of coverage affect your brand?
I think the negativity has died down dramatically over the past couple of months. I think our brand is affected by the quality of our news coverage. And I watch what Katie does every night and I would put it up there against what anybody else is doing on network and cable television right now. And if we keep doing that, the brand will be just fine. Nobody likes to read negative press, whether you’re an anchor or the president of a news division. I feel extremely good about CBS News, and anybody who thinks we’re failing in any area other than the fact that we would like more people to be watching the 6:30 broadcast has an inaccurate view of what’s happening at CBS News. The effect that all of those articles have had on CBS News, you don’t like to read it, but we’re focused on doing our job.
Who besides Schieffer is going to anchor your convention coverage? Will Katie Couric be there?
We haven’t really announced it yet, but you can assume that we will go with the team we used on Super Tuesday with Katie, Bob, Jeff [Greenfield]. We’re assuming Scott Pelley will have a role also. We’ll have the usual cast of correspondents, Chip Reid and Dean Reynolds.
You just upped Zev Shalev from senior producer to executive producer of
The Early Show after a particularly rocky several months. What are your expectations?
I don’t expect anything to happen in weeks or even months, but gradually to start shrinking the gap between ourselves and ABC and NBC. And I think creatively, he’s got a lot of ideas. I think the show is a very good broadcast right now. But I think we need to continue to do unique programming that the other two morning shows aren’t doing, and we probably haven’t done enough of that in previous years to really make The Early Show as distinctive as it could be.
How much of the Inside the NFL deal do you think was motivated by Showtime’s ability to take a shot at HBO, its premium cable arch-rival that jettisoned the show?
I think any time you have an opportunity to pick up a very high-profile program that heretofore was on one of your competitors, it’s a great opportunity. It’s one of those shows that has a very loyal following. I’m looking forward to using the heritage and the tradition that the show has and injecting it with new on-air talent, a slightly new approach and really revitalize what is a great institution on cable television.
Who will we see from CBS Sports on Inside the NFL?
We may use one or two people from CBS Sports. But we’re not just going to make it a spin-off of The NFL Today. I would imagine that if there are four major co-hosts of the show, a maximum of two of those will be from CBS Sports.
How are things without Tony Pettiti, your longtime executive producer at CBS Sports, who recently left to head Major League Baseball’s new channel? Any other personnel moves on the horizon?
I feel really good about CBS Sports, and [this] week we’re going to be announcing a reorganization with some expanded roles for some people at CBS. Other than the College Sports Network, all of the restructuring at CBS Sports is going to be made internally. We’re not bringing in anybody from the outside.
The earthquake in China has become a huge news story and is certainly a major sports story with the Beijing Games. As someone who heads both a news and a sports division, how would you approach these two very different stories if you had the Olympics?
In a lot of sports properties that we do have, there are times when the news and sports lines are very blurred and this is a perfect example of that. Obviously NBC Sports is going to do a terrific job of covering the sporting activities that take place during the Olympics and it’s going to be a complex news story to cover as well. There will be an enormous amount of political activity over there; the aftermath of the earthquake, the human rights situation, the Tibet situation, there’s an enormous amount of blending that will need to be done. No doubt both NBC News and NBC Sports will figure out how to do that, but it’s not a simple Olympics. It’s a very complicated mix of presenting the sports activities because there are people who are going to tune in who just want to see the 100 yard dash or the swimming finals or the gymnastics who don’t want to hear a lot about news. But there is certainly an obligation on NBC’s part to tell the news side of the story. So it’s a very delicate balance. It’s not a simple process. It’s in many ways a perfect storm of politics and sports coming together, which also presents a great opportunity for NBC to showcase what they can do both in the sports and news areas.
CBS Corp. recently announced an acquisition of internet company CNET for $1.8 billion. How do you think CNET’s stable of sites will mesh with CBS’ news and sports business?
I think the opportunity is distributing our content both in news and sports to so many more users and taking advantage of the huge audience and the huge viewer base that CNET has and figuring out a way to get more of those users exposed to sports and news content. We have so much good content that’s being seen by a lot of users now but with the expanded opportunity I think there’s really good revenue potential there.
We’re now entering a new chapter in an intense political season. Do you wish you had more primetime real estate for election coverage?
Sure, every news organization likes to showcase its ability as often as it can in primetime. But I also understand we are part of a larger corporation and there are only so many opportunities we can be given. I will say that when we’ve specifically asked for time, like asking for two hours on Super Tuesday in primetime, [CBS Corp. president] Leslie Moonves, without batting an eye, said, yes. But during the conventions and during the elections I think we’ll have enough time to tell the story. Of course we’d like more time but understand that network limitations are there for all of us, for NBC and for ABC. So we live with that. And when we need the time we’re pretty good about getting it from our bosses.
We’re obviously are not going to have a brokered Democratic convention since Hillary Clinton has suspended her campaign. Do you know how much if any primetime coverage you’ll have for the conventions?
Similar to what we’ve done in the past. We’re looking at a minimum of an hour on [each convention] Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and if news events dictate we’ll, do more than that.