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CBS chief: new anchor may come from outside

No current CBS newsperson is likely to take over the job
/ Source: The Associated Press

Even if NBC’s Katie Couric doesn’t make the jump, the new top anchor for CBS News will likely be someone who doesn’t work there now, the division’s new president said Wednesday.

Sean McManus, who took over in November as CBS News chief, said he was looking for a single anchor for the evening news — not an anchor team like ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff — and wanted a high-profile person with “a wealth of experience and credibility covering the news” at one of the Big Three broadcast networks.

That sounds an awful lot like Couric, the “Today” show host who is mulling a switch to the third-rated “CBS Evening News” when her contract expires in May.

He wouldn’t talk about her in a meeting with reporters here, but McManus, who also runs CBS’s sports division, has apparently concluded that CBS doesn’t have a big enough name for the job now.

Every news division, he said, should have a stable of talent ready to step in as top anchor if something happens to the person in the job — a situation faced by ABC News with Peter Jennings’ cancer last year.

Although correspondents like John Roberts, Russ Mitchell and Mika Brzezinski have the talent, McManus isn’t certain they’re ready.

“The question is, do they have the profile or the reputation that they should have in that job, and that’s certainly open to question,” he said.

McManus said that shouldn’t send a message to CBS News employees that they don’t have an opportunity to advance. In the coming months, he will be making changes designed to give the network’s correspondents a higher profile, he said.

While CBS’ search for Dan Rather’s replacement is in its second year, the evening news has quietly made strides in the ratings with Bob Schieffer at the helm. CBS is closer competitively than it has been to ratings-leader NBC in six years, and five years to second-place ABC, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Schieffer, 68, is “the oldest overnight sensation that I know” and has appealed to viewers with a folksy style, McManus said. But Schieffer isn’t in the mix to do the job permanently because he has said he wants to slow down.

Longtime CBS News producer Rome Hartman began running the evening news last month, and he’ll stay in that job no matter who is the anchor, McManus said.

McManus is trying to boost a once-legendary news organization bruised by low ratings and the damaging fallout from the 2004 discredited story about President Bush’s National Guard service. He said he expects to reach the top in the ratings — even for the morning news show, which has never been there — and put people in the news division on notice that they are being evaluated constantly.

“If people are a little bit scared,” he said, “then that’s OK.”

He said he had different plans in place for different possible evening news anchors. But he was almost tripped up when a reporter asked if it’s possible a new anchor would be named before Couric’s contract expires.

“I don’t have a timetable,” he said.

Reminded that he said earlier that he had one, McManus quickly changed gears.

“I don’t have a timetable I can discuss,” he said.