Connie Chung’s much-ballyhooed joining with Dan Rather on the “CBS Evening News” was notable only in how truly unremarkable the whole enterprise seemed.
The first voice on Tuesday night’s newscast was Chung’s, talking about a troubled presidency. Rather mentioned strife in a faraway land. Then their images filled the screen. They were sitting almost shoulder to shoulder. Rather gazed at Chung fondly. She returned his look with a slight smile. He touched her wrist and welcomed her aboard.
They tossed stories back and forth the way co-anchors do on virtually every local newscast in America. There was even room for some gentle happy talk at the end to raise the likability quotient with the audience.
Rather got a tad more airtime. He did a lackluster outdoor Q&A with CBS News political analyst and Newsweek correspondent Joe Klein on President Clinton’s decline in popularity. Doing the interview outside instead of on the set probably had something to do with CBS’ playing up the co-anchor concept as a way to unleash Rather from the newsroom.
For most of the newscast, Rather and Chung moved the enterprise in a flat, straight-ahead fashion. It wasn’t until their 22 minutes were nearly up that there was time for a little devilish play on the set.
Chung moved out from the anchor desk to stand in front of a bank of monitors — remember the mobile anchor concept — to introduce the regular feature segment “Eye on America,” which focused on a successful experiment with school busing.
After the piece, she was once again seated next to Rather, who commented on how the story was a part of “our world tonight,” and then added, turning toward his partner, “What a different world it is.”
Chung thanked everybody for tuning in and then turned to Rather and said, “Good night, David.” Rather smiled and said, “Good night, Chet.” CBS News honchos could be heard chuckling off-camera.
The superstar duo had planned a little levity, a modest happy-talk incantation that their partnership would repeat the success of NBC News’ “Huntley-Brinkley Report,” which dominated the evening news ratings during most of its 14-year run.
Rather gave a final goodbye to the audience. He gave Chung’s hand another squeeze. She patted his hand back. The credits rolled.
According to a CBS insider, staffers at CBS watched the newscast on monitors, while Broadcast Group president Howard Stringer served champagne.