Entertainment Industry

Category: TV News

In case of Couric, Vieira and possibly Lauer, three do not make a trend

With Katie Couric likely exiting her gig as anchor of CBS' evening newscast and "Today" co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer possibly wondering about how long they want to stay in their gigs with NBC, it'd be easy to think there must be something bigger going on in network news.

In journalism, three of anything is often used as a sign of a trend. But just as a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, an anchor leaving is sometimes just an anchor leaving.

With Couric, making the move away from NBC's "Today" to CBS' "Evening News" in 2006 was a big gamble. She wanted a new platform and to put herself on par with the legends of the news game who had held the chair before, including Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley.

CBS, in turn, wanted Couric to put a fresh face on a struggling broadcast. The last years of Dan Rather were mired in scandal regarding his reporting on George Bush's military service. Bob Schieffer did an admirable job stepping in after Rather, but he was not the face for a new generation of news viewer that CBS was hoping to attract.

COURIC Unfortunately, the hype about Couric was so high it was impossible for her performance to match it. As the first woman to solo anchor an evening news show, Couric herself became a story and perhaps unintentionally a distraction. Her clothes were often critiqued as much as her anchoring chops. She was barely in the job a year when whispers started that she'd leave before her contract was up. Those whispers eventually became shouts. Couric may have contributed to some of that speculation herself by participating in a few of the stories about her happiness with her gig at CBS.

This is not to say outside factors are the sole reason for the continuing struggles of CBS News with Couric at the anchor desk. She was not a good fit for that role and the newscast itself didn't adjust well enough to her strengths as an interviewer.

At a time when news divisions are challenged to make ends meet and find the resources to cover stories, having a $15-million-a-year anchor also seems to send the wrong message about what's important. That CBS stayed in third place didn't help in the analysis of that investment.

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves had made clear that the big paychecks would be gone and Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes" who is now also chairman of CBS News, seems more interested in a more meat-and-potatoes approach to news.

Now, another reality having little to do with Couric is that the business of the evening news is on the decline. The TV networks have struggled to come up with a format that is more than telling people what they've already watched on cable, read online or tweeted about. A generation that grew up on evening news at 6:30 is now growing old and a new generation does not share that same viewing habit or is even home at that time to watch.

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Dish Network blinks in fight with Weather Channel

Dish Network, the satellite broadcaster with over 14 million subscribers, backed off its threat to drop the Weather Channel from its service over a contract dispute.

On Thursday, Dish Network said it was removing the Weather Channel in favor of its own weather network, called Weather Cast, that it was launching Friday.

Although Weather Cast did indeed launch, the Weather Channel is also still in Dish Network homes.

Dish Network cited the Weather Channel's addition of movies to its lineup as the reason it was dropping the service.

However, people close to the situation said it was the Weather Channel's push for a higher fee from Dish Network that led to the dispute.

According to SNL Kagan, an industry consulting firm, the Weather Channel charges about 11 cents per month, per subscriber for the channel. The Weather Channel is looking to increase that fee by about 10%.

For now, the two sides are still talking. Dish Network has always been one of the tougher distributors and in the past has shown a willingness to drop networks over fee disputes.

-- Joe Flint

Layoffs to hit CBS News next week

CBS News employees are bracing for a significant round of layoffs that will hit the news division next week, according to multiple sources. The budget tightening is expected to affect every newscast, including “60 Minutes,” the network’s crown jewel, although that show will likely suffer minimal losses.

People familiar with discussions about the cuts inside the news division have heard that the total number who could lose their jobs could reach as high as 100, or 7% of the approximately 1,400-person staff. A news executive disputed that, saying the final figure would be considerably lower.

The cuts were prompted by a desire to mitigate news-gathering costs and make the news division more of a financial contributor to parent company CBS Corp., the news executive said.

"Every year we look at where the resources are spent, and if there’s a way to spend the resources more effectively, we’re going to do that," said the executive, who declined to be named discussing personnel matters. "This is part of the overall plan to make CBS News successful and vibrant and award-winning for a long, long time. It won’t have any effect on the ability of CBS News to continue with what we think is the best coverage in the news business right now."

But the news division’s remaining foreign bureaus have already felt the blow. According to sources, the Moscow bureau was effectively shuttered today after its three staffers were let go. And three part-time employees in Tel Aviv were laid off this week, leaving just one producer to staff that office. That means CBS' once-robust international reporting corps now has full bureaus with reporters in just London and Toyko, and small offices in half a dozen other foreign cities.

The layoffs are also expected to be keenly felt in CBS’ Washington bureau, where sources have heard that about a dozen out of the approximately 150-person staff could lose their jobs.

It appears unlikely that any on-air correspondents or anchors in the news division will be cut, but the layoffs will hit editorial employees, technicians and support staff. “It’s going to be painful all around,” said one person knowledgeable about the plans.

CBS is one of many media organizations that have been forced to retrench as the weak economy has driven down the demand for advertising. NBC and ABC have also cut their news divisions in recent years, and further belt-tightening measures at ABC are being considered, sources said.

While CBS Corp. President Leslie Moonves said last month that the advertising market is rebounding, prime-time entertainment shows and sports programming have been the first to see the uptick, which is affecting news programs more gradually. CBS News also faces the challenge of having its two daily broadcasts, “The Early Show” and “CBS Evening News With Katie Couric," lag in third place in the ratings.

CBS News is already a substantially leaner operation than its competitors, a result of deep cuts suffered in the late 1980s and early 1990s under owner Laurence Tisch. The company underwent more trims as recently as 2008, when about 1% of the news division staff was laid off.

Word of the newest round of layoffs began late last year when employees with contracts that were up for renewal were asked to sign new deals in which they would get no raises or severance packages if laid off. Bureau chiefs were asked to provide executives with a list of their staffs and what they did.

In recent days, gloom has settled over the newsroom as news of the cuts has spread. “Nobody is saying anything except for, ‘It’s bad,'” said a network source.

— Matea Gold

Diane Sawyer should keep her day job

Diane Sawyer -- keep your day job.

The veteran journalist and cornerstone of ABC's "Good Morning America" is no doubt feeling pretty good today. After 20 years at the network, she has finally ascended to anchor of the network's evening broadcast "World News Tonight" and will succeed Charlies Gibson in January.

SAWYER Unfortunately, that's not the hot job in TV news anymore. While the evening newscasts still have a larger audience than the morning shows, the gap is not nearly as big as it once was. News is also not consumed the way it was when Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley were kings. It's nobody's fault. It's just the the changing nature of how viewers interact with media in the digital era.

Mornings, however, remain one of the few times of the day that television has a chance to hold and inform an audience and set the tone for the day. People like waking up with Matt and Meredith or Robin and Diane. We all get up at the same time, but we don't all get home at the same time. News is fresh in the morning and stale in the evening.

Furthermore, from a business standpoint, the morning shows are the cash cows for the news divisions while evening broadcasts are rapidly becoming relics of a bygone era. The morning shows attract a broader and younger audience and like it or not, that's what makes money. 

Of course, for Sawyer this is about cementing her legacy as a TV newswoman. But one could argue her legacy was set. She's done "60 Minutes," anchored "Good Morning America" and has been a key part of just about every major breaking story around the globe in the last 30 years. Yes, anchoring "World News Tonight" will make that Wikipedia entry a little longer, but the chair she covets has lost a lot of value over the last quarter of a century.

But it's not all bad. She gets to sleep in now, and she'll still get a great table for lunch at Michael's.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Diane Sawyer. Credit: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images


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