NEW YORK — CBS bought some time Wednesday, naming Bob Schieffer interim anchor of the “Evening News” five weeks before Dan Rather retires March 9.
Schieffer, the Eye’s chief Washington correspondent and one of its most experienced hands, will baby-sit the “Evening News” for a short transition period while the net works on what Viacom co-prexy Leslie Moonves said will be a significant departure from the current format, likely to include multiple anchors.
Schieffer, 67, will remain host of the Washington-based Sunday morning show “Face the Nation” and plans to shuttle between D.C. and Gotham, where the “Evening News” is produced.
“I’m not moving to New York or anything,” said Schieffer, who spent 23 years shuttling to NYC as weekend anchor for the “Evening News.” “We’ve been through some tough times; we’ve seen the report and made some corrections. Now it’s time to get back to doing what we do.”
Dan Rather announced his retirement from his “Evening News” duties in November in the wake of a discredited “60 Minutes Wednesday” report on President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard record that was sourced in part with forged memos.
Rather apologized for the mistake, and CBS commissioned a four-month investigation, conducted by outsiders, to discover how the fact-checking process broke down on such a sensitive story weeks before the election.
The investigation led to the firing of the producer, Mary Mapes, and requests for resignations from three other news executives, but CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward kept his job.
Moonves has made the remake of the “Evening News” a top priority at the Eye, saying the net plans to take risks with the third-place evening newscast by departing from the single-anchor approach that has been used by all three networks.
But Moonves said those plans are far from ready, even though he said discussions with Rather about retirement began in the summer.
Schieffer said Moonves and Heyward have not discussed their plans for the newscast or a duration for his stint as anchor. “This is going to be for a short time, without defining short,” he said. “If it begins to go on longer, I think we would have to sit down and talk about that.”
Schieffer is the eldest of the three Sunday morning anchors, but “Face the Nation” does well with younger viewers, occasionally beating ABC’s “This Week,” hosted by the youthful George Stephanopolous. The two shows run neck and neck behind the leader, NBC News’ “Meet the Press With Tim Russert.”
Like Rather, Schieffer is a Texan. He has covered Washington for CBS News for more than 30 years and has covered every presidential campaign since 1972. He moderated the third and final 2004 presidential debate between George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry in October.