CBS not worried about news slide

CBS News officials reiterated that they’re not worried about a ratings decline accompanying the addition of Connie Chung to “The CBS Evening News,” calling the broadcast “a work in progress” and saying it will take time for the audience to adjust.

Newscast executive producer Erik Sorenson said the change was made to provide flexibility, not “for the sake of ratings,” and that he’ll start fretting about the numbers “in a year or two.”

Ratings for the Rather-Chung newscast have been fading since the change was made last month, with the CBS program falling to third place behind NBC’s news July 5-9, the most recent week for which national Nielsen numbers are available. That marked only the third time since last October that CBS has slipped into the evening-news cellar.

Speaking to visiting TV critics Sunday, Sorenson, flanked by the two anchors, maintained that ratings are going to fluctuate “when you make a big change” and that the addition of Chung will prevent the tendency toward too heavily skewing coverage to a breaking story when the lead anchor is in the field.

Sorenson cited recent coverage of the flooded Midwest as an endorsement for the dual anchors, saying it helped CBS get Rather to the story without worrying about whether he was safely situated to deliver that night’s broadcast. “Time will tell whether the audience thinks any of this is good,” Sorenson noted.

“We can’t sit and watch ratings night after night after night, because we’ve got too much work to do,” Chung said. “Our main concern is the content of the broadcast.”

Rather allowed that “everything in television has something to do with ratings,” but added, “At least we’re smart enough not to be consumed with ratings.” Rather was also asked whether he regretted saying at the CBS affiliates meeting that he was “pulling for” President Clinton, which some observers saw as inappropriate. “I am from a time and place where people don’t apologize for being patriotic and supporting the president — whoever the president is,” Rather countered, adding later, “I’m not a robot.”

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