Heyward would rather be no. 1

CBS News topper seeks fixes for lagging newscast

CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward said Monday that he’s stumped as to why Dan Rather’s nightly newscast has been diving in the ratings, and he will be spending the summer exploring possible fixes.

Speaking at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. Press tour in Los Angeles, Heyward also responded to comments made a day earlier by CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves. The Eye topper said a recent CBS News letter to former POW Jessica Lynch pitching an interview probably crossed the line by listing potential programming opportunities with other Viacom properties such as CBS Entertainment and MTV.

“I don’t know if we crossed the line, but Leslie and I are both concerned with the integrity of CBS News,” Heyward said. “But there was never a quid pro quo, or a wink and a nod. Maybe we didn’t do a good job of making that clear in the letter.”

Heyward also told reporters Rather has no plans to leave his anchor seat any time soon. “We don’t play the names game or the calendar game.”

Heyward apparently continues to enjoy strong support from Moonves and other execs at Black Rock, despite the falling ratings at “Evening News” and its No. 3 ranking.

Since the Iraq war, “Evening News” has been losing more ground to NBC’s “Nightly News With Tom Brokaw” and ABC’s “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings,” the evening newscasts rated Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

“Frankly, I’m a little bit puzzled by it,” Heyward said. “I guess as a network exec, I’m not supposed to say that.”

He said a better job probably could be done promoting what’s different about “Evening News” compared to its broadcast competitors. He also said he can’t attribute the ratings decline to the cable news networks.

The Eye was the only broadcast net to showcase its news division at TCA this year.

Accompanying Heyward were CBS News correspondents Jim Axelrod; Mika Brzezinski; Steve Hartman; and chief White House correspondent John Roberts, who is anchor of “Evening News” on Sundays. Correspondent Byron Pitts, who is reporting in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, participated via satellite hookup.

During the war in Iraq, Axelrod, Pitts and Roberts were embedded with U.S. troops.

Correspondents said the press in general is starting to be more skeptical about the White House in light of reports that the Bush administration may have embellished claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

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