CBS PLANS MAJOR MAKEOVER OF ITS EVENING NEWS

New Format, Multiple Anchors Possible; Moonves Mum on Rather Replacement

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- As Dan Rather exits as CBS Evening News anchor in the wake of the Bush document story scandal, CBS plans a full-blown makeover of the show to better target younger viewers and shake up a staid format, according to Viacom's co-president and CBS chairman-CEO, Leslie Moonves.

Speaking at the semi-annual Television Critics Association conference in Los Angeles on Jan. 18, Mr. Moonves declined to provide any specifics about who will replace Mr. Rather when he leaves the job in March. He did note that "it might not be that voice of God, that single anchor that's always existed" and emphasized that "we'll be trying to make it fresher and younger without alienating the older viewers."

'Ensemble anchor team'
He said the network is considering a number of options, including an "ensemble" anchor team, more akin to morning shows, or anchors in various cities. He would not be specific about who he might have approached about becoming the face of the program.

"We have to do something really different to get people's attention," Mr. Moonves said. "We're in third place, we can take risks. We have a great opportunity to perhaps be on the cutting edge."

Evening news coverage in general draws an older demographic, those 45 and up. Mr. Moonves said he thinks he can reinvigorate the evening news format the same way he did the network's prime-time lineup, which won last November's sweeps in the advertiser coveted 18-to-49 demographic for the first time in two decades.

Tarnished by journalism disaster
The reputation of CBS' news operation has been tarnished by the high-profile implosion and retraction of a 60 Minutes Wednesday report on President Bush's military records. Ten days ago, the network sacked the program's producer, Mary Mapes, and asked three other CBS News executives -- Josh Howard, executive producer; Betsy West, senior vice president; and Mary Murphy, senior broadcast producer -- to resign. They haven't done so yet, Mr. Moonves said Jan. 18, and discussions with them are ongoing.

Mr. Moonves, as he has done before, again expressed his support for CBS News President Andrew Heyward, under whose watch the recent journalism debacle unfolded. However, the future of 60 Minutes Wednesday is up in the air. Mr. Moonves said it will have to earn a spot on next season's schedule.

Other planned makeovers
The news division isn't the only CBS makeover target. Critical favorite Joan of Arcadia, which has slipped in the ratings this season, will return to its feel-good spiritual roots. CSI: New York will lighten up its dark tone, literally, injecting more humor into the stories and going for a brighter cinematography.

Because the network is leading the season so far in the important 18-to-49 demographic, Mr. Moonves said he believes that will translate into "hundreds of millions of dollars" going to CBS at the "upfront" advertiser market this spring. He said, however, that CBS will not target its shows at that demographic.

"CBS will never become a narrowcaster," he said. "We program for everybody. When you program hits, people of all ages will come."

The network, during its one-day conference, rolled out some new and revamped mid-season shows like Numb3rs, a crime-based drama about a math prodigy; The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, who takes over for Craig Kilborn; and an Elvis miniseries.

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