CBS is replacing news chief Andrew Heyward a year after the network was embarrassed by a report on President Bush’s military service that led to Dan Rather stepping down as anchor of the “Evening News.”
Heyward will be replaced by CBS Sports president Sean McManus, who’ll retain both titles in a role defined by Roone Arledge, who ran both news and sports at ABC for a decade.
McManus, an exec at CBS for 10 years and the son of ABC sportscaster Jim McKay, inherits a broadcast with a storied heritage and vast reservoirs of talent that nevertheless has been in third place since the 1988-89 season.
As for what McManus plans to do to change those dynamics, he told Daily Variety that he “hasn’t really started the job. I am a news junkie and watch everything anyway. I want to get in and talk to the team. I have some ideas about the evening news which we are going to change.”
The news biz is certainly not alien to the 50-year-old sports exec, who spent “a lot of time in production trucks” with Arledge while his dad was working for “Wide World of Sports.” McManus said Arledge was for him “a part of our family growing up.”
“I want to do at CBS News what we did at CBS Sports, which is to make it the place where the best talent wants to work,” he said.
McManus takes the reins Nov. 7, the day before the publication of a tell-all book by former CBS producer Mary Mapes, who was ousted after a report on “60 Minutes Wednesday” that alleged Bush was a frequent no-show for duty during his service in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s.
Rather stepped down as anchor of the “Evening News” in March, a year earlier than planned. He remains a correspondent at “60 Minutes.”
Heyward remained on the job because CBS chairman Leslie Moonves determined he had issued “direct instructions to investigate the sourcing of the story” that were not followed.
At the time, Moonves called Heyward “the right person to be leading CBS News in this challenging time.”
Heyward embarked on a remake of the “Evening News” that included installing Bob Schieffer as interim anchor and trying different formats to freshen the broadcast.
But rumors of Heyward’s imminent departure persisted during the spring and heightened in September, when Moonves said he was disappointed with early attempts to remake the show and had sent CBS News “back to the drawing board.”
Moonves told Daily Variety that he met with Heyward soon after Labor Day, and they mutually decided Heyward would leave after his contract expires at the end of the year.
“It has been a very difficult year for CBS News,” Moonves said. “There was a feeling it was time to make a change.”
Since Rather’s departure, Heyward and executive producer Jim Murphy have changed the broadcast to emphasize the role of correspondents in the field — allowing them to introduce their own segments at the top of the newscast and Schieffer to ask further, unscripted questions.
But Moonves indicated he’s been frustrated with the pace of the changes, saying at times that the newscast should take cues from Comedy Central’s sendup of TV news, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and Channel 4’s “The Big Breakfast” in Blighty.
“Obviously, there were certain themes and ideas in the works, some good and some not so good,” Moonves said. “It seems appropriate that Sean McManus should see what has been done. He will be instrumental in deciding what gets on the air.”
Moonves said he, too, has ideas for how the broadcast should change but emphasized his role is more that of “an editor than a creator.”
Ratings for the “Evening News” dropped off considerably in the mid-’90s after eight of the network’s stations switched affiliations to Fox, leaving the web with weak stations in Atlanta, Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland.
Viewers of all three network evening newscasts dwindle and age with each year. Collectively, the audiences of ABC, NBC and CBS have slipped by 8 million in the past decade to a little more than 25 million viewers per night.
Last week, CBS’ “Evening News” won an average of 7.26 million total viewers, 29% fewer than NBC’s “Nightly News” (9.37 million) and 12% fewer than ABC’s “World News Tonight” (8.28 million), according to Nielsen Media Research.
At 10 years, Heyward held the post longer than any other CBS News president except for Dick Salant. He built “The Early Show” into a profitable franchise and managed the transition at “60 Minutes” from founder Don Hewitt to current exec producer Jeff Fager.
He created both the second edition of “60 Minutes” and “48 Hours.”
“He created a new era of television that has been copied by countless other broadcasters,” said “48 Hours” exec producer Susan Zirinsky.
“60 Minutes” and “48 Hours Mystery” are having their best seasons in years at a time when newsmags on other networks, including NBC’s “Dateline” and ABC’s “20/20” and “Primetime,” have slipped.
Heyward told staff in a memo that he intends to “remain fully engaged in the media business.”
Colleagues doubt Heyward will end up at another network, but he could resurface at Sony, where he remains close with his predecessor in the job, Howard Stringer. Stringer tapped another former CBS News producer, Andrew Lack, to Sony BMG, a joint venture with Bertelsmann.