“CBS Evening News” is pushing deadline.
Though executives had originally hoped to have the show move to Washington, D.C. in November, the venerable CBS News evening newscast will on Monday start to broadcast from the nation’s capital on most nights. The move to D.C. is a bid to gain new traction and relevance – not only in the show’s nightly scrum with ABC’s “World News Tonight” and NBC’s “NBC Nightly News,” but also in the overall fight to snare viewers who might otherwise use their smartphone to dip into the daily news cycle.
In a promo released Sunday evening, anchor Norah O’Donnell is seen holding forth in a new studio with a blue-and-white color scheme and pictures of what appear to be the U.S. Capitol Building and the Washington D.C. skyline. “Our nation’s capital. The decisions that are made here affect all of us,” says O’Donnell during the short video. “And today, more than ever, people want truth, understanding and accountability.” She goes on to tell viewers she will present original CBS News reportage from around the world, “while keeping our eye on what’s going on, right here, in Washington.”
The hope at CBS is that O’Donnell’s years of covering the White House, Congress and other national institutions combined with a show that is based alongside those elements of government will provide can’t-miss moments and lure new viewers to the program. “CBS Evening News” has languished in third place for years amid a series of anchor changes that have not helped the program in its ongoing joust with offerings on NBC and ABC.
“I am not naive to the challenges,” O’Donnell told Variety in October. “An audience has to find you over a period of time. My friends who have done well with the morning or the evening [news] did so after many years of getting people to find them.”
CBS News takes to the Potomac just as the nation gears up for the last stages of the U.S. House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukraine and as the Democrats move closer to important primaries that will winnow down the field of his challengers for the Oval Office.
O’Donnell started as anchor of “CBS Evening News” in June, and since that time has led a no-nonsense newscast that often emphasizes new details and findings that push a story forward. To be sure, the broadcast has appeared to experiment in its opening minutes by highlighting stories about extreme weather and viral pictures, but on the whole it places more weight on sending CBS News correspondents into the field and pressing them to divulge up-to-the-minute information for its audience. “One of the things that has informed my own reporting is ‘Tell me something I don’t know.’ I’ve been sharing that same kind of value with everybody,” O’Donnell said in October.
The march on Washington is the brainchild of CBS News President Susan Zirinsky, a legendary producer who believes the sight of O’Donnell talking to national newsmakers on the scene or in the studio will prove more interesting than rival anchors interviewing them from New York.
“There is a real hunger for an independent source of news, without bias from the left or the right, and that starts with Norah O’Donnell,” said Zirinsky, in a prepared statement. “Norah’s credentials are unmatched having covered the White House, the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, as well as six presidential campaigns. Norah is an exceptional and experienced journalist who cares deeply about the issues that affect American families. Norah is the right person at the right time.”
CBS News has hired Jay Shaylor, a veteran of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CNN as the broadcast’s new executive producer. Shaylor has in the recent past overseen CNN’s “Situation Room,” a late-day update of the news cycle that is anchored by Wolf Blitzer.
The move will no doubt bring new scrutiny to the show’s ratings, as rivals, analysts and advertisers look to see whether the new roost lends the program momentum. At the same time, O’Donnell’s report also runs overnight on some CBS stations and affiliates, appears in podcast form and runs at night on CBSN, the network’s streaming-video news hub. Walter Cronkite, who famously led “CBS Evening News” for years, never had to worry about downloads and unique video starts. As O’Donnell begins a new chapter in one of the medium’s most enduring programs, however, someone at CBS will have to do just that – and try to determine what role the new locale plays in all of it.