Former CBS anchor to host hourlong show

Dan Rather is officially joined at the hip with Mark Cuban, the outspoken media mogul and owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Rather will host a weekly, hourlong news show for Mark Cuban’s HDNet, “Dan Rather Reports,” starting in October.

Rather, 74, and Cuban announced the exclusive, three-year at a press conference at the Television Critics Assn. Tour in Pasadena on Tuesday.

The show will take on big topics of the sort that were the newsman’s trademark in 44 years at CBS. Asked if he would have the resources that one of the broadcast nets could provide to chase stories in danger zones like the Sudan and Afghanistan, Cuban said, “More. He won’t have limits and we won’t censor stories.”

Rather told reporters that Cuban promised him “the freedom to do the kind of program (I) want to do, the support for it and the backing for it.” What’s more, “I have complete, total and absolute creative and editorial control of this program.”

“Hard news needs backers who won’t back down. Mark Cuban is such a leader,” Rather said. “As a team player, I intend to give Mark and HDNet all of the hard work, loyalty and fearless, high-quality reporting possible.”

The newsman said he hoped the series would inspire “a revival” or “renaissance” in investigative reporting.

Rather is in the process of hiring a New York-based staff of 10-20 for the show, which may include producers who will follow him from CBS. No staffing choices have yet been made, he told reporters.

CBS is a large corporation “with a chain of command that looks like the wiring of a nuclear plant,” he said, enumerating the number of network executives to whom he and his colleagues were accountable. The difference at HDNet, he said, “is that the chain of command ends with me…I have the ultimate responsibility for the broadcast.”

Rather left CBS in June, five months before his contract was to expire, after the network wouldn’t guarantee him a place on the staff of “60 Minutes.”

Rather, who retired as anchor of the “Evening News” last year in the wake of the Memogate scandal, had hoped to continue to contribute journalism to the network and said CBS had “not lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work there.”

Cuban’s HDNet is available as a premium channel on several cable and satellite operators, including Adelphia, Time Warner Cable, Bright House, DirecTV and Dish Network, but it has just 3 million subscribers, a fraction of the 6.5 million or so who watched Rather daily as anchor of CBS’ “Evening News.”

But Cuban sees the show as a powerful vehicle to drum up interest in the high-def channel. Cuban said that when Rather delivers scoops, HDNet will market them to the world, “just as any premium network would.”

Cuban said small auds, a virtually unlimited budget and no advertiser or FCC concerns will be liberating for the newsman.

“Now that he is finally released from the ratings-driven and limited-depth confines of broadcast television,” Cuban said, “I am excited about the impact Dan can have on the future of news.

“News has become very corporate… defined by the economics of the corporation presenting it. We’re trying to get away from that,” he added, saying that the payoff is self-evident with the combination of “the basics of television with high-def with audio and Dan Rather unleashed and uncensored.”

“Dan Rather Reports” will join other HDNet news offerings “NASA on HDNet” and “HDNet World Report.”

Elsewhere at TCA:

  • E! unveiled the animated comedy “Starveillance,” from exec producer Eric Fogel (MTV’s “Celebrity Deathmatch”). It will imagine and reenact infamous celeb moments — e.g., Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s first date — using claymation. Show premieres in January. Network will also relaunch its official Web site, Eonline.com, in August.

  • E! sister net Style, meanwhile, has ordered up “Split Ends,” an eight-episode reality series in which a high-end Hollywood hair stylist swaps places with a small-town barber. Skein, exec produced by 44 Blue Prods., will premiere in October. Cabler has also greenlit the weekly half-hour “Style Her Famous” for September. Hosted by “America’s Next Top Model” mentor Jay Manuel, skein will give young women celeb-inspired makeovers.

(Denise Martin in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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