Wednesday, October 05, 2005

TV ANCHOR RUMBLINGS

Well here are my thoughts on TV news again and the anchor rumblings south of the border.

As you know, the situation is this: NBC has Brian Williams anchoring at 6:30PM and it's a permanent situation for him. Meanwhile, CBS has permanent-substitute Bob Schieffer and ABC has Charles Gibson, Elizabeth Vargas, Bob Woodruff... whoever they can find to warm the seat while they figure out what to do to replace Peter Jennings.

It is taking a long time for CBS and ABC to make up their minds what the heck they are going to do. Part of the reason for this is that there is uncertainty at the Today Show at NBC. Katie Couric's contract expires soon and the rumor is that CBS is trying to woo her and make her anchorwoman of the CBS Evening News. And then Les Moonves can fully implement all the big changes he has in mind to revamp the news. But Couric could well stay at NBC. And Moonves has been blowing a lot of smoke about what he might do to change CBS News for a long time, yet not much has happened over there beyond a revamping of their website. We'll see.

ABC CLOSE TO A DECISION

Meanwhile ABC seems close to making up its mind, but we have no idea who, yet. Here's an article from Marketwatch's Jon Friedman on the situation. Jon Friedman seems to think that Charles Gibson should get the anchor chair at ABC, and so do I. He's been one of their top people for a long time and has proven experience doing the news and particularly live broadcasts. But his detractors say he's too old and that they should go with younger anchors. And then there's people who say Good Morning America needs him to stay where he is so they can beat Today, that GMA is vital to the network.

I also read a report somewhere that ABC is leaning towards announcing that World News Tonight will be anchored by the team of Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas, and I really don't think that's a good move. I don't think they can fill the main anchor chair, but more importantly, I just don't see this pairing working, period. This isn't local news, this isn't happy talk! Rarely do anchor teams work at the evening newscasts. There was Huntley and Brinkley and that was a sensation, but Chancellor and Brinkley was kind of a flop. Then they had the team of Tom Brokaw and Roger Mudd and that ended badly when they dropped Mudd completely and made Brokaw sole anchor. ABC has an even worse record. There was ABC's pairing of Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters which was a complete disaster, which was replaced by an even more confusing World News Tonight with three anchors at once. And CBS' famous anchor team of Dan Rather and Connie Chung (remember that?) was the biggest debacle ever with Connie and her appetite for sensationalism.

In Canada, the CBC paired up Pamela Wallin with Peter Mansbridge over at CBC for their infamous 9PM newscast and that was the biggest flop of all time, and Pam wound up being fired and eventually had to leave the country. The only anchor team in Canada that was ever successful was Lloyd Robertson and Harvey Kirck, over at CTV, and that lasted for eight years.

So I think it's a terrible idea to have a dual anchor setup and frankly I think neither Vargas nor Woodruff are up to the job at the moment. This isn't 20/20 or the weekend news we're talking about, this is World News Tonight! People are going to compare both of them to Jennings and boy, they both fall short at the moment. At least with some other people we know how they'd handle it if something really big happened. Ask yourself this question: who do you want to see at the anchor desk wall-to-wall if there's another terrible 9/11-type terrorist attack? That's the job we're talking about here. Maybe these two can report on it, but anchoring, I dunno. There are several people I can name who are more deserving of Jennings' chair than either of those two at the moment. People say that they're the same age as Peter Jennings was when he took over but that is sort of like saying Dan Quayle is qualified for VP because he was the same age as John F. Kennedy... and we knew what happened to Quayle. This floated Vargas/Woodruff idea reeks of what happened to a certain GMA anchor pairing that blew up after six months, which Charles Gibson had to replace. Hmm, who were they, Kevin Newman and... somebody.

I also read that Gibson has a year and a half to go in his contract and could threaten to leave ABC if he doesn't get World News Tonight. So it's a moot point if they keep him at GMA, because he'll leave anyway, possibly for Today to replace Matt Lauer who reportedly/supposedly plans to retire early anyway and enjoy his riches. And then ABC will really be up in smoke. Anyway I hope Gibson gets the World News Tonight gig. If he loses out he should quit; more importantly, he should also fire his agent. He will have definitely been shafted, and it would be a big insult.

GERALDO AND SHEP

The wild card is the Fox Network, as it always is.

Back in the 1980s, as you know, many of the stars of the Fox News Channel were involved in tabloid TV. Bill O'Reilly anchored Inside Edition, and Geraldo Rivera had his own daytime talkshow. They were all going up against Maury Povich on A Current Affair.

Just recently, A Current Affair was revived, but after only a few months that show has flopped and the syndicators have just cancelled the series. So who is set to replace that trashy, trash-era show?

Why, who else. GERALDO.

Makes sense to me.

The thing is that it's FOX that is behind Geraldo's new syndicated, national show and there is big speculation out there that this is a test run, that FOX wants to find out how a 30-minute national show works because they are planning to start up a daily, network newscast of their own to go up against ABC, CBS and NBC. They've already moved Roger Ailes over to run the owned-and-operated stations group, so that's fueled a lot of speculation.

The word is they also have an anchor ready: Shepard Smith, who is already the main anchor on the Fox News Channel. Only question is what time will the show air, 6:30 or late at night. Shep is on record as saying he wants to see a show like that on the FOX network.

If they get a show like that off the ground then CBS and ABC are going to be in a lot of trouble. FOX knows already who they're going to pick as their star anchor, and they don't even have a show on yet! I think we should watch what FOX is up to. I have a feeling they are quickly going to be major players in the nightly news business.