Kaplan: 'CBS News' is OK

Sees elements for winning newscast

CHANTILLY, Va. -- The new executive producer of the "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric" said all the elements are there for a winning newscast despite a consistent third-place finish.

Rick Kaplan said Thursday that it has got a fantastic anchor/managing editor in Couric, a great staff and a great start in what former executive producer Rome Hartman had started. Hartman was replaced after Wednesday night's broadcast and the reins handed over to Kaplan, who most recently led MSNBC and ABC but was executive producer of "Nightline" and "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings" among other accomplishments.

"The broadcast is clearly not broken," Kaplan said. "I understand, it's not surprising that the (Big Three) newscasts line up they way they do. CBS went through the biggest change of anybody" during the past six months with a ground-breaking choice of Couric as the first solo female anchor.

But it is a broadcast that after a fast start quickly faltered in the ratings amid criticism that it wasn't newsy enough and tried to do many new things in the traditionally staid evening newscast. Kaplan and his new boss, CBS News resident Sean McManus, wouldn't say precisely what course they will take with the new leadership but Kaplan acknowledged that a new executive producer generally takes things in at least a somewhat new direction.

Kaplan is known in the industry as a producer's producer, hard charging and talented, who even running networks liked being what he called a "creature of the control room."

McManus said in a separate interview Thursday that it wasn't just the ratings that drove him to make the quick change at the top of the "CBS Evening News."

He declined to discuss details but said: "As much progress as we made, and we did make progress, it needed to be taken to the next level," McManus said. "Rick is the guy to do it."

The CBS move was the second change at the top of a Big Three evening newscast in a week. "NBC Nightly News" executive producer John Reiss asked to be reassigned from the broadcast, which has taken a few knocks during the past several weeks at the hands of ABC's "World News." But unlike NBC, which lost the February sweep in the demo but already is seeing a rebound, CBS seemed interminably stuck in third place six months after Couric took over.

McManus said he wasn't influenced at all by NBC's move and said it wasn't just about ratings.

"We're not impatient but we obviously want to see improvement," he said.

The decision happened quickly, only spanning a little more than a week. McManus interviewed Kaplan, talked to CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves (who supported him fully), and then spoke with Couric. McManus felt it was important that Couric and Kaplan meet and talk. Then the deal was made and key people -- including Hartman -- told last night.

"She (Couric) has enormous respect as I do for what Rome has done," McManus said. Couric couldn't be reached for comment.

Hartman will be reassigned to an as-yet-unnamed position within CBS News.