CBS eyes more hard news for ailing Couric newscast

NEW YORK (Hollywod Reporter) - The newly appointed senior vp of CBS News says it’s frustrating that the network’s low-rated evening newscast with Katie Couric isn’t doing better, but he believes the program is finally on the right track.

News anchor Katie Couric gestures during a CBS News panel at the "Television Critics Association" summer 2006 media tour in Pasadena, California, in this July 16, 2006 file photo. The newly appointed senior vp of CBS News says it's frustrating that the network's low-rated evening newscast with Couric isn't doing better, but he believes the program is finally on the right track. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Network news veteran Paul Friedman officially was upped from vp to senior vp on Wednesday, effectively serving as CBS News/Sports President Sean McManus’ No. 2 and working alongside senior vp Linda Mason.

On the short list of things to improve at CBS News is the standing of “CBS Evening News With Katie Couric,” which started with a lot of fanfare in September but has faltered. Last week’s viewership was the lowest since at least 1987, probably longer, according to Nielsen Media data issued Tuesday.

“Obviously it’s not the best news one could get on a Tuesday morning, but we know we’re on the right track now, and we know most nights we’re the best broadcast on in the evenings,” said Friedman.

Viewership and the adults 25-54 demographic trails both of its rivals, traditional ratings champ “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” and the recent winner, “ABC World News With Charles Gibson.” Friedman acknowledges that there were mistakes made in the early days of Couric’s broadcast, chief among them the emphasis on softer news and features rather than the harder news that traditionally marked the broadcast under anchors Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather and, of course, Walter Cronkite.

“Our frustration is that the program is so much better, and we just need people to notice that, because we did make mistakes at the beginning, clearly, and alienated clearly a significant part of our traditional audience,” Friedman said. “We’ve got to get them to check in again.”

CBS executives ditched many, if not all, of the softer segments and in March replaced executive producer Rome Hartman with news veteran Rick Kaplan. Kaplan has made the newscast much more focused on the news of the day.

“The show was too experimental for people’s taste at that hour,” Friedman said, acknowledging his role in its development. “We’ve brought that back to a much more traditional newscast.” He’s also encouraged by the broadcast going on the road, as it recently based in Chicago, where Friedman said there was an enormous tune-in factor that has remained after two weeks.

Friedman said the news division also has been focused on improving the correspondent ranks; he cited the recent hirings of Daniel Seiberg, Nancy Cordes and analyst Jeff Greenfield.

Friedman’s new role will be a lot like his old job, serving as the hard-news czar for the news division and being the go-to person if McManus isn’t around. He’s been the key adviser to McManus for the hard news questions, including those surrounding the Virginia Tech mass murderer’s videotaped confession.

Friedman has a long resume in TV news, including executive vp/managing editor of news coverage at ABC News from 2000- 2003, two terms as executive producer for ABC’s “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings” and executive producer of “Today,” “Prime Time Live With Tom Snyder” and a field producer for the classic “Report” in the early 1970s.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter