CBS doctors doc-cop newsmag ’48 Hours’

Changes include new anchor Stahl, graphics, logos

NEW YORK — The CBS newsmag “48 Hours Investigates” has seen some nips and tucks over the years, but when it bows on Sept. 27, auds should notice some pretty significant surgery.

The editorial focus will expand to allow consumer stories into its crime fold. The renamed mag, now anchored by “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl, will have new graphics and logo as well as a new timeslot, Friday at 8. Stahl, who succeeds Dan Rather, will stand in an outdoor locale instead of a studio. “Not only do we have a new title, but we have a new mission,” says executive producer Susan Zirinsky.

While the tone of the rejigger may fit in neatly with CBS’ successful brand of noire fair such as the “CSI” franchise, Stahl and a few feds and forensics experts will have to bail “48 Hours Investigates” out of a ratings rut.

In the past year, auds for the skein have dropped 25% on average, from 9.4 million in the 2000-01 season to 7 million in the 2001-02 season, according to Nielsen Media Research. In the 1996-97 season, “48 Hours” averaged nearly 11 million viewers. (See chart.)

In general, newsmags have seen a decline over the past year — at a time when news is supposedly the rage. In the key adults 25-54 demo for newsmags last season, “48 Hours” lagged well behind competitors such as “Dateline NBC” and ABC’s “20/20.”

But the 16-year-old show, formerly called “48 Hours,” really comes to life in the summer, when it updates its investigative one-hour pieces during rerun season. It thrived on Mondays, following the Eye net’s high-rated comedy block.

The endurance of “48 Hours” is largely attributed to Zirinsky. “She’s kept the franchise and the brand alive,” says a newsmag vet from a competing net. “She changes with the times, so the show’s never out of touch.”But overall, the mag has been in the shadow of the “60 Minutes” franchise, where both “Evening News” anchor Rather and Stahl still work.

If the net wanted a newsmag to fill a Friday timeslot, execs wouldn’t jump move “60 Minutes” from its signature Sunday 7 p.m. position.

” ’48 Hours’ has been used as a utility player by CBS,” says Bill Carroll, Katz Television veepee and director of programming. “They take advantage of it as they need it.”

But while the show suffered at 10 p.m. Fridays against the get-oriented “20/20” last winter, the 8 p.m. shift may improve “48 Hours” perf. It will face off against NBC’s flagging “Providence.”

“There is growing appetite for news on Friday night,” says Carroll, pointing to “20/20” and “Dateline NBC,” which airs at 9 p.m. ‘That may be part of CBS’ strategy.”

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