“Scott brought the best values of ’60 Minutes’ to the ‘CBS Evening News,’ and we thank him for his commitment to the journalism of this broadcast every night these past six years,” said David Rhodes, President of CBS News. “The milestone 50th season of 60 Minutes’ requires Scott’s full contribution, and we look forward to important reporting from him for many years to come.”
Earlier Wednesday, CBS named veteran anchor Anthony Mason, who c0-anchors “CBS This Morning: Saturday” and is a “CBS Sunday Morning” regular, as interim “Evening News” anchor. Pelley is expected to return to the broadcast for at least a few more days before signing off.
Pelley, who has anchored “Evening News” since 2011 as well as remaining a “60 Minutes” contributor, is currently on assignment for the venerable Sunday newsmagazine. There have been rumblings of his departure from “Evening News” for months as the expiration of his contract drew near. Pelley had his CBS News office packed on Tuesday in his absence in full view of staffers. Among the furnishings in the anchor’s suite are photographs of CBS greats like Edward R. Murrow and a giant painting of a sailboat, commissioned by his wife, Jane. Pelley is a sailing aficionado, but gave up the hobby when he added “Evening News” duties to the job he already had at “60 Minutes,” where he has been a presence since 2004. He was able to get back on the water after a few years of juggling both shows.
Pelley put a positive spin on the news in a statement, expressing his appreciation to his “Evening News” colleagues. He was not immediately available for comment.
“I find my heart filled with gratitude for the opportunity to know you, humility in light of your sacrifices, and hope for the future of journalism because of the standards you live by,” Pelley said. “CBS has been great to me for nearly 30 years. I’m glad to accept this assignment with continuing gratitude.”
The transition may be one of the more abrupt the medium has seen in the evening-news space, even keeping in mind Brian Williams’ departure from “NBC Nightly News” in 2015. That departure came about as the direct result of the anchor making misleading statements about a 2003 helicopter trip that resulted in his being suspended, then removed, from the program. For decades, the networks have tried to pass the evening-news baton from an august veteran to an experienced successor: Walter Cronkite to Dan Rather. Charles Gibson to Diane Sawyer. Tom Brokaw to Williams.
To be sure, the networks have tested new formats and different combinations of anchors, some of them short-lived. But it is not standard practice to have the departure of one anchor slip out in informal fashion, and not to have some sort of succession plan in the works. CBS named Bob Schieffer the interim anchor of “CBS Evening News” in early 2005 after Dan Rather stepped down from the post.
Pelley, a veteran reporter and anchor whose body of work has been awarded an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Silver Baton, two George Foster Peabody awards, 14 national Emmy awards, five Edward R. Murrow awards, a George Polk and a Loeb award, as well as honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Writers Guild of America, joined “CBS Evening News” in 2011, replacing Katie Couric. His ascension to the anchor chair was seen as a return to a more traditional “CBS Evening News” broadcast after the network and Couric attempted to craft a program that wasn’t so rooted in the decades-old conventions of the format.
Pelley’s broadcast has gained viewership during his tenure but it also lagged both NBC’s “Nightly News” and ABC’s “World News Tonight” regularly. The NBC newscast, anchored by Lester Holt, leads in viewers between 25 and 54, the audience most coveted by advertisers, while the ABC broadcast, anchored by David Muir, this season has the most viewers overall.
Even as the CBS newscast came in third place, Pelley had developed a reputation for delivering arch copy lines about the biggest news stories of the day. “It has been a busy day for presidential statements divorced from reality,” he told viewers when opening a broadcast in February.
Speculation has swirled for some time over Pelley’s position at the newscast. His contract was expected to be up for renewal this year, but Pelley was adamant that he’d stay at the evening-news desk for some time. “My intent is to be in the seat as far as I can see into the future,” he told Variety in February. Steve Capus, executive producer of “Evening News” and executive editor at CBS News, said Pelley was a key component of the organization. “It’s natural for people to speculate when contract cycles come up,” he said at the time, adding that Pelley’s “role at ‘Evening News’ is important, but his role at ‘60 Minutes’ is also important.”
The New York Post previously reported Pelley’s departure from “CBS Evening News.”
The anchor returns to “60 Minutes” as the Sunday newsmagazine is about to face new competition. NBC will launch a new Sunday rival, “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” at 7 p.m. this weekend. CBS, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of “60 Minutes” starting in the fall, has added Oprah Winfrey as a special contributor to the program. Before joining the program, Pelley worked for a second edition of the show, “60 Minutes II.” He joined CBS News as a New York-based reporter in 1989.
Pelley originally had hopes of becoming a photographer, but a stint working as a copy boy at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal when he was a teenager changed his mind. He has continued to set out on extensive reporting trips, contributing about 20 pieces each year to “60 Minutes” while manning the evening-news desk when not on assignment. Pelley has always taken his duties seriously, urging his team to adhere to a higher standard. During a “CBS Evening News” staff meeting held earlier this year, a producer pitched a feature on a deaf dog who was taking part in the annual Super Bowl counter-event known as the Puppy Bowl. “He’s deaf? How do you know for sure?” asked Pelley. “Maybe he’s just ignoring you.”