Anchor gets comfortable in temp gig

Schieffer's shift a success

NEW YORK — Could the temp become the answer to CBS’ anchor quandary?

That’s the question posed with increasing frequency in the halls of Black Rock as interim anchor Bob Schieffer enjoys a run marked by critical acclaim and renewed morale at the net.

“I’m having the time of my life,” Schieffer told Daily Variety. With a gig initially pegged at three months, Schieffer said that given the experience of the first three weeks, he’d consider staying on longer. “If they asked today? I would say, ‘Yeah!’ ” he enthused.

CBS’ “Evening News” appears to be holding its ratings from a year ago with Schieffer at the helm. The numbers are muddled because the “Evening News” has been preempted in about a quarter of the country by the NCAA tournament for the past two weeks, but Schieffer has been retaining Rather’s audience and last week registered a 2% gain in households from last year.

The newscast is still a distant third in the ratings, but for now, Schieffer has helped restore something more important to CBS News staffers.

“Things were so negative about everything for so long, and suddenly it’s all picked up,” said “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney. “CBS staffers have always been very proud of the organization and proud of themselves for working there. If that feeling is re-established, that would be good.”

The “Evening News” under Schieffer has a vastly different look and feel from the Rather-led broadcast. Correspondents introduce their own segments, and Schieffer asks them unscripted questions about their stories on the fly.

“People remember things if you say them as you would in the newsroom and not in this formalized way we talk on television,” Schieffer said.

The effect, he said, is that the conversation becomes a second story, a sidebar or analysis piece that adds value. The other effect, as some critics have noted, is it dispenses with the “voice of God” stereotype by making the broadcast more conversational.

A “voice of God,” after all, can be a good thing, but Schieffer said he expects his correspondents to be honest when they don’t know something. “People need to know we don’t know all the answers,” he added.

Schieffer said he speaks with Viacom co-prexy/co-COO Leslie Moonves and CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward regularly. Both are working on a remake of the “Evening News,” expected to have multiple anchors and take cues from the conversational style of “The Early Show.”

But some have begun to say they believe the answer to CBS’ problems for the near term is in the job already.

“That will put Les Moonves in a tough position,” Rooney said. “They couldn’t come up with what they wanted to do long term. It will be interesting if this works out so well that they don’t have to.”

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