Thursday, January 20, 2005

Chance for change

I don't know how interesting this is to most people, considering the evening network news programs continue to lose viewership. Tom Brokaw balked at that point during his retirement send-off tour, pointing out how many millions of viewers tuned into NBC Nightly News. I wish I had the exact numbers, but this November Chicago Tribune article has some, along with several different opinions as to whether network news will survive.

But once Brokaw retired in November, many media watchers thought this would begin the end of the traditional evening newscast. With the "big three" (Brokaw, Jennings, Rather) breaking up, the days of a solitary (white, male) anchors, lording over an entire newscast would soon pass. And with Dan Rather stepping down from his chair in March, CBS has an opportunity to change how these news programs conduct their business.

Yesterday's New York Times had an interesting piece on the various options CBS chairman Leslie Moonves is considering, each of which looks to reshape a format that seems old and musty, perhaps drastically. Of course, some of this desire for change is fueled by the recent criticisms of CBS News, tied to the botched investigation of George W. Bush's National Guard service. So what does Moonves have in mind? Maybe multiple anchors (led by "The Today Show's" Katie Couric?), more of an "ensemble cast," reporting from different parts of the country. (And that ensemble could include "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart.)

Maybe this is much ado about nothing, and Moonves will end up putting something on the air that just isn't that different. Or maybe no one will care, since so many get their news elsewhere these days. But to me, it's intriguing whenever someone has the chance to alter the status quo and try something new. Sometimes, that results in an embarrassing disaster. But look at the success of CBS's programming over the past few years; I don't think Leslie Moonves has overseen too many train wrecks.