Network news making headlines

WRAP: Couric's debut, exec ousters kept things moving

2006-07 SEASON WRAP
Overview: Patterns, measurements define season
Ratings rerun: Fox, CBS on top
Thursday, Monday are battlegrounds
Chart: Final series ranks
Network news makes headlines

NEW YORK -- A year ago at CBS' upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall, newly crowned network star Katie Couric made a grand entrance amid hopes that her anchorship of the "CBS Evening News" would be a strong step forward for women as well as the boost that the third-place newscast would need to make the leap to first place.

It didn't work out that way.

In the year since the announcement, the hope has turned to the realization that the "CBS Evening News" isn't destined for first place anytime soon. But another newcomer to the evening news, ABC's Charles Gibson, has leaped into first place in recent months and is poised to overtake traditional leader Brian Williams in the next few months.

That has caused a lot of turmoil in the traditionally staid world of the network evening newscasts, with NBC and CBS showing their executive producers the door this spring and hard-luck ABC heading to the top with a traditional newscast and a familiar face. NBC has been unable to stem ABC's advances, while CBS stays in third place no matter what the network does.

It's quite a change from a year ago, when NBC still was riding high from its high-profile and award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina that gave Williams the big story he needed to help viewers put his predecessor Tom Brokaw firmly in the past. Williams and NBC also was the beneficiary of the strong transition plan the network had, something that neither ABC nor CBS had in place when they unexpectedly lost their anchors.

Gibson was selected to anchor "ABC World News" after more than a year of reeling in the face of the death of longtime anchor Peter Jennings and the near fatal-injury of new co-anchor Bob Woodruff in Iraq. Woodruff's injury led to ABC re-evaluating its pairing of Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas. Vargas soon stepped aside in favor of Gibson, who began his job last May.

Gibson's move from "Good Morning America" to the evening news anchor chair was mostly overshadowed by Couric, which suited Gibson just fine and gave the network time to strengthen its fundamentals in time to make a run at No. 1 under the helm of executive producer Jon Banner. Meanwhile, "Today" star Couric and CBS spent the summer contemplating ways to reinvent the evening news broadcast.

Following a massive marketing campaign, "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric" had a big debut, drawing 13 million viewers in its first broadcast Sept. 5, far eclipsing its rivals. But the Couric-anchored newscast, which received mixed reviews, quickly lost momentum, and NBC returned to the top spot in the ratings. Then in February, ABC's "World News" and anchor Gibson began a hot streak. Adding insult to injury, CBS continued to decline and, in recent weeks, posted historic lows for the broadcast in viewership.

The poor ratings cost CBS executive producer Rome Hartman his job; he was replaced by news vet Rick Kaplan, who immediately made the show much more harder news and CBS execs acknowledged that they misread the capacity for the evening news viewer to watch something different.

Over at "NBC Nightly News," executive producer John Reiss was replaced by NBC News vp Alex Wallace, who left the executive suite to shape up the newscast as it felt the pressure to battle a resurgent ABC. Results so far have been mixed.
Last week, the ABC newscast won the fourth straight week in viewership, households and the adults 25-54 demographic -- the first time ABC had won all three categories for four straight weeks since November 1996.

The anchor changes on ABC and CBS' evening newscasts had a ripple effect in the morning this past season. Both ABC's "GMA" and NBC's "Today" have posted declines since Gibson and Couric left the early shift.

NBC has suffered without Couric, who was replaced by Meredith Vieira in a smooth on-air transition that has yet to reap the viewership that Couric attracted. ABC also has had tougher sledding with the departure of Gibson in favor of Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts along with a supporting cast that includes Chris Cuomo and Sam Champion.          

Newsmakers

Evening newscasts Viewers (in mil) Adults 25-54 % change from '05-'06 viewers 35-54
NBC Nightly News (NBC)
8.9 23.9 -6/-10
World News (ABC)
8.7 23.9 +3/-6
CBS Evening News (CBS)
7.2 1.9/7 -5/-3
Morning shows (7-9 a.m.)
Today (NBC)
5.7 22/15 -6/-8
Good Morning America (ABC)
4.9 1.7/12 -5/-15
The Early Show (CBS)
2.8 0.9/5 -2/-10
Source: Nielsen Media Research
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