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Network Television Stations Shuffle New Anchors

May 31, 2006 at 6:45 PM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: ABC News is looking for a little peace and
quiet after a tumultuous and sad year.

PETER JENNINGS, Former Host, “ABC World News
Tonight”: Finally this evening, a brief note about change.

JEFFREY BROWN: First came the announcement of Peter
Jennings’ lung cancer and his death last August.

ANNOUNCER: This is “World News Tonight” with Bob
Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas.

JEFFREY BROWN: In January, ABC debuted a dual-anchor format,
featuring two young stars of the news division. But barely a month later,
co-anchor Bob Woodruff and a cameraman were grievously wounded in Iraq.

Woodruff’s co-anchor, Elizabeth Vargas, carried on without
him. But with her impending maternity leave and the program’s viewership down
by nearly one million over the last year, ABC News made a change last week.

ELIZABETH VARGAS, Former Co-Anchor, “World News
Tonight”: This is my last broadcast as co-anchor of “World News

CHARLES GIBSON, Host, “World News Tonight”: Good
evening. On Memorial Day…

JEFFREY BROWN: On Monday, Charles Gibson became anchor of
the program after spending much of the last 20 years co-hosting “Good Morning

CHARLES GIBSON: The critical thing is that we just get back
to cruising speed, that we be able to do what this news division does very well
without having to look over our shoulders all the time.

JEFFREY BROWN: The 63-year-old Gibson brings nearly 40
years’ experience to the broadcast. Come the fall, he’ll compete with another
morning veteran making the move to the night: Katie Couric.

The “Today Show” co-anchor’s 15-year tenure at the
helm of the NBC News ratings and financial juggernaut ended this morning with a
three-hour tribute. Couric is now heading to CBS News and its evening anchor’s

The perennial third-place evening news has shown life of
late, adding viewers under the regency of veteran CBS hand Bob Schieffer, who
has guided the broadcast for 15 months since Dan Rather’s departure. Couric,
who will earn a reported $13 million a year, is taking off the month of June
before reporting to work at CBS, in anticipation of re-launching the “CBS
Evening News” in the fall.

Money in the mornings

JEFFREY BROWN: And to help us look behind all of theserecent moves, we're joined by Ken Auletta, who chronicles the news business inhis column for the New Yorker magazine.

Ken, let's begin with the morning programs. How importantare they to their networks?

KEN AULETTA, Columnist, The New Yorker: Oh, they arecritical. In fact, if you look at "Today Show" on NBC, it is thesingle most profitable show on all of NBC. Take "E.R.," take the old"Friends." "Today Show" made more money, $250 million ayear, than any other program on NBC.

So if you look at news and you say, "Well, newsviewership is going down." The evening news is declining, not only inratings, but in profitability it still makes money, but not nearly as much, yousay, "Where is the economic engine in news?" It's in the morning.

JEFFREY BROWN: And why is that? Has the audience changed orgrown? What's happened?

KEN AULETTA: It's the one day part in all of network televisionwhich has suffered these audience losses, as people have many more choices, notjust cable but the Internet, the iPod, et cetera. It's a one day part in all ofnetwork television where the audience has actually grown.

And that's in part a reflection of changing lifestyles. Morewomen are in the workforce, and more people are getting up early to exerciseand have a fuller day. And they want a fix in the morning of the morning shows.

Not just network, by the way. You see it on local. You seeit at 5:00, 6:00 a.m. Those local shows are growing, too.

News over entertainment

JEFFREY BROWN: How have the shows themselves evolved? Imean, I'm wondering, do they see themselves as entertainment shows, or as newsprograms, or some kind of mix?

KEN AULETTA: They see themselves as a hybrid of entertainmentand news, but increasingly you see entertainment crowding out the news.

If you look at the three morning shows, they're very heavyon entertainment. If you looked at the goodbye for Katie Couric this morning,three hours, it was -- there was no Iraq. There was no new secretary oftreasury appointed. There was no Afghanistan, or the economy, orpoverty, or anything else. It was all Katie.

And they've become very personality-driven. The assumptionbehind that is that, when people wake up in the morning, they want to likesomeone. They want to have a Katie, a next-door neighbor with them, Matt, anext-door neighbor with them, Charlie, Diane.

And they know these people by their first names. It's not"Rather." It's "Katie." And, therefore, they want peoplewho are friendly and they want friendly news. They want smiles; they don't wanta lot of investigative reporting.

That's the assumption they make about the audience. Thereare a lot of people I know -- myself included -- when I wake up, and I'mfrustrated when I just see -- I don't want cooking lessons in the morning. Iwant to find out what happened in the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: So these morning shows are hugely important,and yet two of their biggest stars, Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson, have leftto go to the evening news. Now, what does that tell you?

KEN AULETTA: Well, what it told me, actually, it's morepersonal than it is institutional. In Katie's case, she's done it for 15 yearsand was ready to move on.

When you looked at it, NBC tried to keep Katie Couric. Theycouldn't keep her on in the morning. She was tired. She had exhausted thatformat for her. She wanted some new challenge.

What's the new challenge? There is none in news, unless shewants to do kind of an entertainment thing. And she came out of a serious newsbackground, and I think she wanted to use her news muscles.

The only option for her, since the anchor seat was taken atNBC, was really to go to -- at the time, it was taken at ABC. The only optionfor her was to go to CBS and be an anchor there.

In Charlie Gibson's case, he is a good soldier, filled in,in the morning, for them, and has done it since 1999, which is his second tourof duty. He wanted to go back to news where he had been. And so, personally, hewanted to get out. And the delay in that had as much to say about Diane Sawyeralso wanting to get out as it did in the decision at the network.

Sunset for the evening broadcast?

JEFFREY BROWN: You know, of course, there's been a lot ofhand-wringing in recent years about the evening news programs and their future.I'm wondering, do these moves of major stars to these programs, and the factthat Bob Schieffer was able to add audience or at least hold it in the last 18months, is there any new thinking about the economic viability of the news, thenightly news programs and their audiences?

KEN AULETTA: Well, nightly news, in the scheme of things,within network news divisions, nightly news has become less important than themorning news, but it's still important. And it's not just important in terms ofits identity to the network and its history, the Edward R. Murrow, you know,the Tiffany Network at CBS, Dave Gatwick (ph), Tom Brokaw, John Chancellor,Peter Jennings at ABC, but it's also important to local stations.

They love that affiliation they have with network news andwith the anchors, who are a big stars. I mean, if you walk through an airport,as I did some years ago when I was going a book on the networks, with any ofthe news anchors, they were bigger celebrities than John Travolta, forinstance.

And the reason for that is they're in 10 million homes, eachof them, every night, every night. And it's in your living room. It's not amovie theater, which doesn't even get 10 million people to watch an entiremovie by John Travolta. So it's an amazing fame and popularity they have andimportance they have in our lives.

JEFFREY BROWN: And it's interesting. There was talk, ofcourse, about changing the model for these programs, maybe different co-anchorsor a different way of presenting the news, and yet they all seem to have comeback to the main one star anchor.

KEN AULETTA: Well, part of the problem is they say they have22 minutes. They actually have only about 18.5, after you subtract thecommercials, and the bumpers, and the news, and the promotions.

So the problem becomes it's very little time. And to splitthat 18.5 minutes, much of it is with reports from the field, not the anchor,but to split that among two anchors becomes a real problem.

So it's just a logistical problem for them to have two anchors.And they tried it at ABC and the idea was that one of them would always be onthe road. And, unfortunately, Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq.

Making a prediction

JEFFREY BROWN: Would you care to make a prediction as towhether the storms and all these moves at the morning and evening shows are nowover?

KEN AULETTA: No. I mean, I think the interesting thing now,when you talk about personalities, is what is Diane Sawyer's next move? Whenshe signed on six years ago for "Good Morning America," she was goingonly to do it for six months. Now she seems kind of trapped there.

She can't go to CBS; Katie has that job. She can't go toNBC; that job is taken. She can't go to ABC; that anchor job is taken. So wheredoes Diane Sawyer go? That's one of the interesting questions.

The larger question institutionally is: What happens to thenetwork news division? Will they continue to be driven by those morning shows? Andwill those morning shows continue to soften up and introduce more and moreentertainment values to those news divisions?

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Ken Auletta, thanks again.

KEN AULETTA: My pleasure.