CBS News made headlines of its own Monday by unveiling anchor changes at two of its best known programs, a radical maneuver that underscores how its programs have fallen behind rivals at a time of heightened competition.
The network will overhaul both “CBS This Morning” and “CBS Evening News,” adding two new anchors, veteran Anthony Mason and rising broadcaster Tony Dokoupil, to host the morning program with Gayle King, who has been at the A.M. desk since 2012. Her co-anchor Norah O’Donnell, will take over the chair at “CBS Evening News” starting in the summer, before moving the broadcast to Washington, D.C. in the fall. A third “Morning” co-anchor, John Dickerson, will move to “60 Minutes.” Jeff Glor will step down from his role as evening-news anchor, and is in discussions with CBS about a potential new role. CBS’ “Morning” and “Evening” have been mired in third place for years, and have recently seen viewership erode in light of anchor changes made over the past 18 months.
“We all want to crush it like a popsicle,” said King during Monday’s broadcast of “CBS This Morning,” where she, O’Donnell and Dickerson revealed the new moves to a national audience.
The shifts represent the first big bet by Susan Zirinsky, who took over as president of CBS News in March, to revive a storied news brand. CBS News has one of the most hallowed lineages in the business – it is, after all, home to “60 Minutes” and is the root from which Walter Cronkite once told the nation of the death of President John F. Kennedy. But ratings at many of its programs have dipped thanks in the wake of talent switches made after the late-2017 ouster of Charlie Rose. Rose was accused of unwanted sexual behavior, and fired from his “CBS This Morning” post.
CBS News replaced him with Dickerson, who had hosted “Face The Nation,”and added a fourth anchor, Bianna Golodryga, who recently left after learning she would no longer have a role at the morning program. Margaret Brennan began a new tenure at “Nation” at a time when Glor was struggling at “CBS Evening News.”
The results have been lackluster. “CBS This Morning,” launched in 2012, was a success story for CBS. It gained in the ratings, and began to grow more competitive with NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” with a narrower focus on news of the day and a mandate to avoid some of the more frivolous elements of morning TV. Since Rose’s departure, however, it has fallen behind. CBS News recently named a new executive producer for the program, Diana Miller. “CBS Evening News” and “Face The Nation” have also been in decline.
O’Donnell will become just the third woman to get a solo berth hosting one of the big broadcast-network evening-news programs. She follows Diane Sawyer’s stint at ABC’s “World News” and Katie Couric at “CBS Evening News”- as well as a stint by Connie Chung co-anchoring the CBS evening program with Dan Rather. Judy Woodruff currently anchors PBS’ “PBS NewsHour.” She has also been named managing editor of the evening broadcast and is expected to continue as a “60 Minutes” contributor. She will also anchor the network’s coverage of elections and primary nights.
CBS no doubt hopes the new moves will put to rest a tough year for the news division. Discovery of the claims against Rose led to a fuller airing of allegations of the work culture at CBS News and its venerable newsmagazine “60 Minutes.” Rose denied the accusations made against him.
But Zirinsky’s new lineup places women at the center of most of CBS News’ flagship programs: O’Donnell at “CBS Evening News”; Margaret Brennan at “Face The Nation”; King at the center of “CBS This Morning” and Jane Pauley at “CBS Sunday Morning.” Women also hold top producer roles at many shows, including Diane Miller, newly installed as executive producer at “CBS This Morning”; Mary Hager, a veteran presence at “Face The Nation”; Judy Tygard, named to succeed Zirinsky at “48 Hours”; and Tanya Simon, recently elevated to executive editor at “60 Minutes.”
The moves have been among the worst-kept secret in the TV-news business. Word of the looming CBS News makeover leaked even before Zirinsky officially took the reins of CBS News in March. Speculation around the changes created an awkward environment for “Evening News” staffers as they kept working to keep the broadcast on track and put CBS in the unenviable position of not being able to tell its own story until all the anchors’ new roles were determined and signed. CBS News wants Glor to stay on, King said Monday, but “his conversations with CBS continue. It is his decision.”
The new “CBS This Morning” team is expected to start May 20.