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CBS' Schieffer looks to retire

The nation’s most famous temp has just finished a year at the helm of “CBS Evening News,” but retirement is on his mind.

When CBS topper Leslie Moonves first proposed that Bob Schieffer take the reins of the “Evening News” in the wake of the Memogate scandal last March, he pitched it as a six-week project, max.

Fifty-two weeks later, Schieffer, 69, is still on the job and working nearly seven days a week between the evening newscast and “Face the Nation.”

“No one is more surprised about it than I am,” he said, kicking his feet up on his desk overlooking the “Evening News” set in Gotham.

And while it’s been a year marked by an improbable amount of success, CBS News’ front man and elder statesman said he’d like to retire at 70, less than a year away.

“There are still a lot of things I want to do that have nothing to do with CBS,” Schieffer said. “I’d like to come back for election coverage in 2008 –but to work five days a week is not what I want to do.”

A year after he began his “temporary” assignment, CBS has a lot of reasons to keep Schieffer where he is. “Evening News” has added 513,000 viewers since the start of the season, while NBC and ABC have dropped 905,000 and 1.09 million, respectively.

“Face the Nation” is up 3% for the season and finished February sweeps closer to NBC’s “Meet the Press” than at any other time in the past 20 years.

While the ratings news is good, it comes with one critical caveat: CBS hit rock bottom in the ratings last year after Memogate, which makes for favorable comparisons, while ABC and NBC are coming off big election-year numbers.

CBS’ reliance on Schieffer illustrates just how much the nets still depend on the generation of broadcasters that became famous before cable news and hundreds of channels splintered audiences.

ABC is relying on its own pair of elders, Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, pressed into double-duty to keep “Good Morning America” and “World News Tonight” afloat.

NBC built a name for Brian Williams as an anchor on MSNBC, not covering the Pentagon or the White House, although Williams did that too, briefly.

Schieffer has said he believes Katie Couric would be an excellent choice to replace him, as would former “60 Minutes” correspondent Sawyer.

But even if CBS solves that problem this spring, it will need to find a replacement for “Face the Nation” in relatively short order.

“Face,” after all, ascended to No. 2 after another broadcast legend, David Brinkley, retired from “This Week” on ABC.