NEW YORK — “CBS Evening News” climbed out of third place for the first time in nearly five years last week, beating ABC’s “World News Tonight” in total viewers.
In a sign that the evening news race is tightening, CBS edged ABC by a razor-thin, 80,000-viewer margin after coming within 310,000 viewers of ABC two weeks ago.
“It’s a symbolic victory and the first step on a very long road,” said CBS News and Sports prexy Sean McManus. “It’s just one week, and being in second place is no reason to declare victory, but it does say the ‘CBS Evening News’ has a fair amount of momentum behind it.”
NBC, still the distant front-runner, finished the week with 8.41 million viewers. CBS had 7.39 million, ABC 7.31 million. The last time CBS beat ABC in total viewers was the week ended Aug. 2, 2001.
The broadcast, led by caretaker anchor Bob Schieffer, is still a ways from claiming second place to NBC; ABC’s “World News Tonight” still earned about 170,000 more viewers in the 25-54 demo than CBS.
The tightening of the race comes after a year of struggle for ABC’s news division, which lost Peter Jennings and then saw Bob Woodruff wounded in Iraq.
“Good Morning America” hosts Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer have subbed in for Elizabeth Vargas periodically, but Vargas has been alone at the helm for the past two months.
Woodruff has come a long way from near-fatal head and chest wounds suffered last year in a bomb blast in Iraq. His treatment is focused now on recovering his cognitive abilities, but no timetable has been set for his return.
Vargas, who is pregnant, will take maternity leave in late summer, and ABC has held talks with Gibson to take over the broadcast on a temporary basis.
CBS’ surge comes on the eve of its upfront presentation for advertisers, where outgoing “Today” show co-anchor Katie Couric will be introduced as the new anchor of the “Evening News.” She takes over the broadcast in September.