CBS made strides in improving rocky relations with its affiliates at its winter confab in Washington, D.C. But the meet also raised questions about the future of CBS anchorstar Dan Rather.
CBS announced at the conference last week that it would restore $6 million of the $30 million in compensations cuts made last November. The Tiffany web also informed its affils that it would be increasing the latenight news window during the 1992 Winter Olympics from nine minutes to 30 minutes.
The moves by CBS were made after a firestorm of protests and threats of massive preemptions of CBS programming from the affils over the across-the-board 20% cut.
“Giving us that 30-minute news window in the Winter Olympics and the $6 million were important gestures,” said Phil Jones, a member of the affiliate board and prez of Meredith Broadcasting. “But it’s not a pound-for-pound deal in the money we lost from the compensation cuts.”
“[CBS] made moves in a positive direction,” said E. Barry Smith, outgoing chairman of the CBS affiliate advisory board and chairman of Schurz Communications. “But they didn’t offer a plan about how the $6 million would be distributed. So we’re all taking a wait-and-see attitude.”
Anthony Malara, CBS prez for affiliate relations, admitted that a plan on how the cash will be distributed is in the works, but it has yet to be hammered out. He adds that the distribution will be based on clearance levels and ratings performance. Owned-and-operated stations will be excluded from the pool.
While attendees described the mood of the conference as upbeat, concern was expressed in a session with CBS News prez Eric Ober about “CBS Evening News” coverage of the Persian Gulf war and the future of Rather. Several CBS affils in the early days of the war opted for CNN coverage over their own network’s newsfeed. Since war broke out, CBS News, in general, and Rather, in particular, have been the focus of several critical articles, openly speculating that the news star’s anchor days are numbered and that the news division is bottoming out.
“Ober didn’t try to whitewash the situation,” said a major-market CBS g.m. who did not want to be identified. “He admitted there were problems that needed to be addressed, and that big changes were coming.”
Does that mean a new anchor for the “CBS Evening News” is going to be selected?
“That’s not the kind of thing you announce in that kind of forum,” said the g.m. “But I don’t believe many people left the conference believing Dan Rather will be the anchor in 1992.”