Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sean McManus" "I'll point to Roone Arledge"

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(image via cbssportsline)

It looks like incoming CBS News President Sean McManus, who has network reporting in his blood, will not only be looking to legendary news executive Roone Arledge for guidance, but he will be zeroing-in on the role of on-air talent in attempting to bring CBS from third to first place in the ratings. According to TVGuide's The Biz (link via Romenesko):

" So what will the biggest priority be at your new job?

"McManus: First, to think about what the format of the CBS Evening News should be. I'm not as concerned by what it's going to look like six months from now as by how it will look six years from now. I'm going to approach it aggressively, but I'd rather take my time and not make a mistake. I don't know if it's going to be one anchor, multiple anchors or an ensemble cast. I've thought a lot about it but don't have any answers at the moment.

"Second, nurturing and attracting the best talent � something I think I've done pretty well at CBS Sports � people who weren't here when I got here [include] Dick Enberg, Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms. I'd like to do the same thing at CBS News so that it's the place where the best talent wants to work. I want to invigorate the place. I'm not happy about being in third place in anything in life, and the fact that the CBS Evening News is in third place and The Early Show is in third place does not make me happy.... Ratings in news move glacially, but I have to believe that if we put on a better product in those time periods, then more people will watch.

" However, when you pursue the National Football League and the NCAA basketball tournament, they are going to get predictably good ratings. News talent moving from one network to another is not always a sure thing.

"McManus: No. But I'll point to Roone Arledge. At ABC he was nowhere on Sunday morning, and he hired someone who had been put out to pasture, David Brinkley, and put him with George Will, Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson and created the most successful Sunday-morning show on the air. He took an 11:30 time period, took a man named Ted Koppel, who was not a star, and made him a star, and made Nightline an institution. He took Barbara Walters and put her on 20/20 and made it an enormous hit. He took Peter Jennings and made him a star on World News Tonight. He got Diane Sawyer for Primetime Live and for specials. If you get the right talent and put them on the right programs, you'll create hits. You're right � the difference between sports and news is that with sports you can go out and buy ratings. You can't do that in news because there is no proprietary coverage. The only thing that distinguishes you is your on-air coverage and you're on-air talent. So if you do a good job in both of those, you can maintain and improve upon an already good division. It's doable. It's not easy.

Two words with regards to on-air talent advice: David Duchovny. Don't laugh. Well, okay, laugh, chuckle softly, call The Corsair "crazy" under your breath, shoot some hate email to, then, finally, get all the belated Zoolander references out of the way before we continue. Done?

Now listen: We are not just being provocative by making this suggestion. Is this really so far-fetched? Is this as far-fetched as, say, floating "The Naked News" accidentally-on-purpose (It's called, we believe, "lowering expectations"; but, all-in-all, it seems more Freudian, no?)? Is this David Duchovny thought-experiment as far-fetched as promoting the CBS Sports President to CBS News President? Okay, alright, overreach: The last part wasn't so far-fetched, but, still, hear us out.


The face of CBS Evening News? (image via, ironically, untruenews)

Granted (The Corsair pours himself a glass of very dry Sherry), Duchovny is not David Brinkley, and never will be -- but who in the world would watch a David Brinkley nowadays, in 2005, after a hard days work and the myriad digital distractions like video games, porn and the web? The days of The Wise Men are, essentially, over (We are breaking no new ground here in saying that). No one looks to the network anchors as quasi-Oracular News dieties (And when they did, back-in-the-day, they did so because there was no competition -- the networks were, essentially, 3-way mini news monopolies)

Network anchors today read the Teleprompter well, appear smart and -- most importantly -- do wonders with a can of hairspray. The last part is the strongest recommendation for an anchor. Remember: The anchors are not the correspondents who actually report the news and break stories -- an anchor is essentially a shows "host," the face. Todays anchor and the anchor of tomorrow should the institution continue will be to be one part voice of credibility and one part glamour, in essence: the smart celebrity.

Need we remind you that Jon Stewart's name has been floated for CBS News? Now, Is Duchovny's name so much more "preposterous" than Stewarts? The legwork will always be done by the hardcore correspondents, the war-zone reporters, the White House press room junkies, the gloriously driven Christianne Amanpour-types; Duchovny as anchor will simply serve it all up and be the face of the evening news, introducing the correspondents and, occasionally, asking smart background on their storymaking process.

Of course, cranky, apoplectic media-purists will raise an unholy outcry on Romenesko Letters should Duchovny ever get his shot ("infidel ... pretty boy ... ACTOR!" "Murrow is ... is ... spinning in his grave!!"), but who the fuck do they think will get ratings anyway? John Roberts? Please. (Averted Gaze) That's so 1957. American society, aided nightly by our infusion of The Daily Show is already at a post-bland white guy reading the news stage. And if they want to cry about Edward R. Murrow why don't they give PBS' superior Frontline the ratings? The elegant, member-supported PBS is now the proper medium for that kind of unrealistic idealism. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting doesn't have to answer to frustrated advertisers or irate shareholders.

We secretly believe that the News Purists are entirely oblivious to the imperatives of TV ratings and shareholders; they simply believe that money and summer houses on Martha's Vinyard grow on Abstract Disembodied Network News Principles, and a network should continue to support the News on valuable network real estate out of one part Noblesse Oblige, one part homage to their parents (See specifically: George Clooney) and, lastly, nostalgia for the beloved memory of Walter Cronkite's Years. Clearer heads ought to prevail, chiming in, duly: A celebrity network news anchor does not mean the End of News. Stop getting hysterical. A decline in the quality of correspondents in the field would mean the End of Network News; the disintegration of top shelf producers would mean the End of Network News -- an anchor is just an anchor.

Today's anchor is simply not as important -- and will never again will be as important -- as Walter Cronkite, pre 24/7 cable news coverage.

Duchovny can do all of the regular on-air anchor things, plus bring in a younger, smarter demographic as well as approach the Teleprompter reading from from an edgier angle. No one -- no one uunder 70, at least -- sits at 6:30 before the Evening News Gods like they did even when The Corsair was a kid.

Would Duchovny be open to do this? It would, of course, typecast him forever and effectively kill his career in Hollywood as an actor. Not that there's much going on there anyway -- no offense intended. But we suspect that something this novel and loaded with gravitas and prestige would appeal to Duchovny.

It would be one wild experiment, no? Holla back.

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