NEW YORK — CBS’ “Evening News,” led by interim anchor Bob Schieffer, saw its lowest viewer tally on record last week, while the sprint for first in the evening news race remained incredibly close with 150,000 viewers separating NBC and ABC.
CBS’ 6.1 million average nightly viewers last week was its lowest total since record-keeping started in 1987.
Meanwhile, NBC’s Brian Williams held a hair-thin margin over a Peter Jennings-less ABC. The Peacock retained the overall lead, which it has kept for 42 straight weeks, but the two newscasts tied in the 25-54 demographic on which advertising is sold.
ABC’s “World News Tonight” has been without the on-air presence of Jennings for the past three weeks as he undergoes chemotherapy for lung cancer. Jennings has been in the ABC studios and contributing as managing editor of the newscast, but his voice is still too weak for him to return to the anchor chair.
Low ratings for “Evening News” are a setback for CBS, which had received plenty of critical acclaim for the Schieffer-led broadcast. Schieffer scored a notable scoop on the Minnesota school shooting story in his first week on the air, and the newscast showcased his conversational style via live Q&As with correspondents.
CBS has averaged a little more than 6.8 million viewers in Schieffer’s first six weeks at the helm, down 7% from the same period last year. NBC also was down 7% in the same period from last year, while ABC was flat.
“Our focus right now is on the content of the broadcast. We realize it will take time for the audience to respond to the changes we’re making,” said CBS News spokeswoman Donna Dees. “The journalism is strong, the spirit is fresh, and the initial reaction has been very positive.”
In cable news, Fox News Channel showed a rare weakness, slipping 6% in total audience in April from the same period a year ago, while CNN gained 11% and MSNBC 7%.
Fox averaged 825,000 viewers in a month marked by the deaths of Pope John Paul II and Terry Schiavo, compared to 531,000 for CNN, 249,000 for MSNBC and 235,000 for CNN’s Headline News.
Headline News appears to have ceded third place to MSNBC after a strong start and plenty of marketing power behind its revamped “Headline Prime” lineup.
In primetime, Fox was up 1% to 1.5 million viewers, led by a 25% increase for “On the Record With Greta Van Susteren,” while CNN grew 6% in prime to 893,000, led by a 37% increase for “Anderson Cooper 360.”