'CBS Evening News' Gets Tougher

Third-Place Katie Couric Has New Executive Producer

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Looks like Katie Couric will be channeling the voice of God after all. CBS moved yesterday to replace Rome Hartman, the executive producer of "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," with Rick Kaplan, a former president of both MSNBC and CNN. Mr. Kaplan, who joins March 12, is expected to get the broadcast back to its traditional breaking-news roots. His reputation is that of a tough-as-nails boss.
Rick Kaplan: a tough-as-nails new boss will try to jump-start the third-place news program.
Rick Kaplan: a tough-as-nails new boss will try to jump-start the third-place news program. Credit: WireImage

Ratings boost needed
The change comes as CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus looks to boost ratings of the third-place broadcast, which has attempted to offer viewers something a little different from the usual white-male talking head.

Under Ms. Couric, who is also managing editor, the show has been less formal and more likely to cover offbeat features than its rivals. Despite the attempts to break the mold, "CBS Evening News" ratings have disappointed given the extensive promotion behind the arrival of Ms. Couric, who kicked off her $15 million contract Sept. 5.

The program has headed in a number of different directions since Dan Rather stepped down in March 2005 after 24 years as anchor. Mr. Rather was then temporarily replaced by Bob Schieffer, who fronted the program and saw a ratings rise, before handing off to Ms. Couric and returning to his perch as a Washington correspondent.

'Big personality'
Mr. Hartman is expected to be reassigned within CBS. He has been executive producer of the show since January 2006. Ms. Couric described Mr. Kaplan in a press release today as "a big personality with big ideas." The two did not work directly together while they were both at NBC.

The executive change comes as NBC, the ratings leader, has faltered. ABC's "World News Tonight with Charles Gibson" took the lead in the news demographic that advertisers buy, the 25- to 54-year-old group, and also took the lead in total viewers. "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" Executive Producer John Reiss stepped down from the second-place newscast last week. His replacement has yet to be announced. NBC said the change is not related to ratings.

Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media, noted that CBS is not alone in the challenges the nightly newscasts face. "The bottom line is evening news is in a horrible time period. Who is home at 6:30 p.m? You can't expect softer news designed to attract younger viewers to get better ratings because they are just not there to watch in the evenings. The right answer, and that's something they are doing, is to put the more homespun newscast online, which is where the younger viewers are."

In the 25-54 demographic for Feb. 5 through March 4, ABC led with a 2.5 rating in the news demo and total viewers of 9.6 million viewers, NBC saw a news-demo rating of 2.4 and total viewers of 9.47 million while CBS trailed with a 2.0 rating and 7.5 million total viewers. NBC still leads for season-to-date rankings within the news demo.
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