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Chair up in the air

CBS News' options include multiple anchors

NEW YORK — CBS is considering multiple newscasters to replace Dan Rather in the anchor’s chair when he steps down in March.

Viacom co-prexy-co-chief operating officer Leslie Moonves said an anchor partnership is being considered as part of a broad rethinking of the “CBS Evening News” franchise, and that no candidates have been ruled out.

“We are exploring every possibility right now,” Moonves said. “After the first of the year, we are going to come to a decision and, by the way, it could be more than one person.”

The possibility of a second or even a third chair on the “CBS Evening News” set throws a new angle into the anchor-heir handicapping, but it also brings back some sour memories at CBS of the failed partnering of Rather and Connie Chung in 1994, a year before Moonves joined the network.

Anchor duos have produced some of TV journalism’s finest moments, such as NBC’s Chet Huntley-David Brinkley partnership, which lasted more than a decade, and some of its biggest flops, including Tom Brokaw and Roger Mudd in the early ’80s and the Barbara Walters-Harry Reasoner debacle in 1976.

Moonves said even though “Evening News” is a distant third among evening newscasts, the net has a unique opportunity to execute a turnaround with the transition at NBC from Brokaw to Brian Williams.

“It will give us an opportunity to look at what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong and proceed with the future in a different way,” Moonves said.

The only aspect of the “Evening News” not negotiable is the 6:30 timeslot and half-hour duration, he said.

While audiences for all three evening newscasts have dwindled nearly 30% over the past decade, they still reach an estimated 25.8 million viewers a night, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CBS News is awaiting a final report from an independent committee investigating a story on President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard that was sourced, in part, with documents that were found to have been forged.

Moonves said he’s confident that any level of negligence found in the decision to air the documents would not prevent Rather from continuing as an investigative reporter for “60 Minutes.”

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