Reporting ThroughThe Aftershocks

Already in the midst of unprecedented change, the TV news business is in for perhaps even bigger jolts in 2011
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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 Morning, 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 mgrego@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @MelissaGrego

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