Six months after making Katie Couric the first woman to solo anchor a big network newscast, CBS on Thursday acknowledged the programme’s failings by replacing its producer.
The media group, led by Les Moonves, chief executive, said that Rick Kaplan, a long-time television executive, would take over CBS Evening News from Rome Hartman, who was to be reassigned to an undisclosed position.
The changes reflect the difficulties that the broadcast networks face as they try to energise one of their most enduring franchises without alienating their core audience – a dilemma for executives throughout the so-called “old media”.
The evening newscasts are still highly profitable for their parent companies, but in an era of proliferating cable and internet news outlets, their mass audience has fallen by roughly half since 1980.
CBS’s move comes a week after NBC replaced the top producer for its evening newscast after it began losing ground to ABC.
Ms Couric, whom Mr Moonves poached from NBC’s Today morning show with a contract worth $15m a year, spurred a spike in ratings on her highly publicised debut. But audience figures have since tailed off, restoring CBS to last place among the three largest networks. On some nights, Ms Couric has attracted fewer viewers than Bob Schieffer, the interim anchor she replaced.
In an effort to increase the programme’s relevance, Ms Couric and Mr Hartman planned to offer greater context for the news and more explanation of its importance. But critics – including Mr Kaplan – said they focused too much on personalities and soft features at the expense of hard news.
Andrew Tyndall, editor of the Tyndall Report, which covers the television news industry, said: “It’s sort of like baseball. When your third baseman isn’t hitting, you fire the manager.”
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