Dan Rather: 80 is the new 40

Legendary newsman hits his stride

After more than six decades in the news business, Dan Rather is just hitting his stride.

In fact, the longtime CBS anchor who famously ankled in 2006 after 44 years with the Tiffany network will celebrate several important milestones over the coming months. In November, his investigative news skein “Dan Rather Reports,” which is up for four Emmys next month, will mark its fifth year on HDNet, one month after the newsman with the unmistakable baritone hits the big 8-0.

“Eighty is the new 40,” quips HDNet chairman Mark Cuban, who hired the news icon in the aftermath of Rather’s CBS exit, which was spurred by Rather’s “60 Minutes II” segment that was critical of then-President George W. Bush.

Rather’s hard-hitting reporting — which has notched 12 Emmy nominations including two previous wins for HDNet — has found an unlikely home with the network known for hard-hitting mixed martial arts matches.

But both Cuban and Rather say there is nothing odd about their pairing.

Cuban, who runs one of the few networks not owned by a media conglomerate (Reelz and Bloomberg also buck the trend), wanted to bring quality journalism to his fledgling network. He says he couldn’t afford to become an all-news network, but he could carve out a night of news programming on Tuesdays, when “Dan Rather Reports” provides a companion to “HDNet World Report” and documentaries.

“Mark understands that truly fiercely independent investigative journalism is the red beating heart of democracy,” says Rather. “He’s looked around and saw this type of journalism is shrinking. There are very few places that do it. And those who do it are pulling back.”

For years, CBS provided the gold standard for such reporting with its “60 Minutes” flagship. But now, Rather is showing his old home how to churn out 42 fresh hours of investigative journalism per year on a mean and lean budget.

Rather works with a staff of 22, while the typical network newsmagazine show enjoys a staff of 100-plus while producing about 25 hours of programming annually when reruns and commercial breaks are factored in.

“We have a resource like this because of (corporate) politics,” Cuban says. “That’s the difference between HDNet being independent and someone driving for earnings per share. I just let him go do his thing. I don’t ask to see the shows ahead of time. I watch him on TV like anyone else.”