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April 10, 2005

Making Over the CBS Evening News

Cbs_evening_newsLeslie Moonves, CBS chairman, wants to reinvent the CBS Evening News broadcast which has “aired fundamentally unchanged for more than 40 years.” Despite generating at least $100M a year in ad revenue, viewership of the CBS Evening News has fallen significantly in the past decade and the average age of its viewer has risen to nearly 60.

The NY Times asked four media notables to kibitz over how they would remake the CBS Evening News to be more relevant. [Article link (reg. req’d.)]

Lizz Winstead, co-creater of the Daily Show, suggests CBS should take more of a nonpartisan editorial stance by telling how other media outlets (Fox, MSNBC, NY Times) are covering stories and pointing out where they have it right and wrong. Lizz also thinks a panel discussion should be incorporated into the half-hour newscast where she proposes creatively using the CBS eye icon to provide subtle commentary on the panelists' contributions.

Mark Burnett, of Survivor and Apprentice fame, litters his take on remaking the CBS Evening News with megalomaniac musings. Check out this egotistical drivel, “Of all the people you’re likely to speak to, I’m the most likely to get it right – because I have my finger on the pulse of young people.” (No wonder he and The Donald hit it off so well.) Burnet’s advice to CBS? Sensationalize the newscast by having field correspondents be news agitators more than news reporters.

Don Hewitt, founder/longtime exec. producer of 60 Minutes, suggests CBS should add young-skewing thought-provoking commentary at the end of each newscast from the likes of Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres. He also suggests adding more of a female voice in front of the camera, behind the camera, and in the stories themselves.

In my opinion, the best advice on remaking the CBS Evening News comes from Al Primo, broadcast news pioneer. Al opines,

“I've seen enough research in the kind of work I do to be absolutely 100 percent sure that the evening network newscasts have no relevance to people's lives.

I would, first of all, say to CBS, "Forget about being the newscast of record." There is no need for a newscast of record when you have CNN and Fox and news radio all day long, and even Google News.

The newscast has to be designed to work across many platforms. So while you'd have an anchor desk, you'd also have an Internet site on the left hand side of the set. You'd have monitors and a group of people monitoring blogs. Young people are multitasking all the time. They watch television and work the Internet at the same time. You have to have a component in there where you push that part of the show - what's the audience telling us, in real time, on the Internet.


The newscast would also be simulcast on the radio every single night, coast to coast. And it could sell its own ads on the radio. Most everybody I know in the world - in their car, at their desk, on the train - is away from the television set when the news is on. This gives them the opportunity to listen to the newscast on the radio. You would also have it sent to satellite radio.

I would also advise that on at least three nights - Thursday, Friday, Monday - that there be a sports segment. For the Final Four, you could bring in Greg Gumbel and Jim Nantz, two sportscasters who already work for CBS. We're trying to make a show that's interesting and compelling to watch. You'd have him sitting next to the anchor, not just out there in TV land.

The new newscast has to emphasize enterprise reporting. I don't mean investigative reporting; I don't mean four-month old studies on crime. I'm talking about stories that nobody else has, or that are highly interesting. For example, I would have a business unit that has only one job: to pore over reports from companies. You can say, "Company XYZ filed its 1090 form today and guess what: Joe Shmo, the CEO, made $75 million." Then you go out and get him. Chase him down the hall. I call this little thing "the High-Interest Business Report," instead of those Dow Jones averages that are on the air every single day.

You've got to have fun with these things. One of the things we learned doing research for the teen program is that young people like to laugh. They like to laugh at their elders, to see examples of waste, to see examples of who is getting away with what. This should have a sort of edginess. You've got to find a way to do that on the network level, not just the local level.

Okay … let’s throw it out to you … how would you remake the CBS Evening News to increase its relevancy given today’s micro media landscape?


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The problem with evening news is the time they are aired: between 4 and 6PM most of the target audience is commuting from work. By the time we get home we already got our dose of news while surfing the 'net at work and from listening to the news-traffic-and-weather AM radio stations in our cars.

I'd like to see a "60 Minutes"-NPR-ish kind of show around 6:30PM. Leave the "news you can use" stuff to the affiliates.

Great blog BTW...

Gabriel ... I too would love to see an NPR-ish approach to broadast news. In fact, why doesn't NPR produce and syndicate its own television broadcast news program? ("Newshour with Jim Lehrer" doesn't count cause it isn't produced by NPR.)

If NPR were to syndicate a broadcast newscast, it would serve as an income generator for NPR. This 'incremental' revenue would lessen the load local radio affiliates would need to pay for NPR radio programming. Which in turn ... would mean we wouldn't have to endure those darn public radio pledge drives.

Regarding the illustration contained in the post of a possible layout for "making over" CNS' (or anyone else's) newscast contains one element that I can't buy into: The "internet center".

Here's why: If a newscast has to scour the internet (whatever that means - there's been enough lazy journalism as it is in this regard) to find noteworthy items in blogs, the question becomes, why do we need a dedicated news team? Clearly people can just go read those blogs on their own and cut out CBS (or whoever). CNN's "inside the blogs" segment is a good example of how ham-handedly blogs are being reported on by "big media".

RE: NPR-ish news, CBC News in Canada produces NWI (NewsWorld International) which I pick up from my satellite TV provider. There's your NPR news model. Dispassionate reporting, in-depth coverage of issues many other networks don't cover, pretty much just the facts. Contrast this to the whole "something you don't know is going to kill you: details at nine!" approach to US news.

RE: Radio simulcast of TV news: For what it's worth, Sirius (and I believe XM) carries the simulcast of CNN and Fox, among others. So it's not unheard of, literally.

Here's a crazy idea: I'd report the news. Follow-up on some of the news that's ignored or avoided. Carve out a segment each night or a series of nights and go in-depth on an issue facing our country or the world. Save the ideology and report facts. We've got ideology and sensation.

Save the blogger idea. Bloggers are wonderful. But...there's a limit.

The one good idea was to simulcast the show over radio. There are Ipod like products out that automatically record radio shows and convert to MP3 files.

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