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TV/Radio Notes: 'CBS Evening News' hits 10-year ratings low

Saturday, July 05, 2003

"CBS Evening News" marked a low point in a storied history last week - its smallest average audience in at least 10 years, perhaps ever.

The evening newscast with Dan Rather, for several years third in the ratings behind NBC and ABC, has lately been losing even more ground to its rivals.

It was watched last week by an average of 6.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. NBC's "Nightly News" had 8.9 million viewers and ABC's "World News Tonight" had 8.2 million.

The weeks around July 4 are generally the least-watched TV weeks of the year.

Discounting holidays and weeks when the news was pre-empted, researchers going back to 1993 could not find a worse week for the "CBS Evening News."

"Clearly, we want to reverse that trend," CBS News President Andrew Heyward said. "I don't think it's something to be overly concerned about. ... It's an issue but not something I want to overreact to. I think the program itself journalistically is as good as it has ever been."

Rather, 71, has anchored the CBS evening newscast since taking over from Walter Cronkite in March 1981. Cronkite was dominant for years, and Rather spent much of the 1980s atop the ratings before being passed, first by ABC's Peter Jennings and then NBC's Tom Brokaw.

His job is not in any danger, according to his boss, who praised Rather as "full of energy and enthusiasm for the program."

"He's one of the best broadcast journalists ever," Heyward said. "I don't think he's the issue."

For the first six months of this year, CBS's average evening news audience has dropped 5 percent, from 8.5 million to 8.1 million, compared to the first six months of 2002. This comes despite the war in Iraq, which helped cable news ratings shoot up during the same period.

NBC's "Nightly News" went up 4 percent, from 10.2 million to 10.6 million, from the first half of last year to this year. ABC's "World News Tonight" rose slightly, from 9.76 million to 9.79 million.

The ratings for last week were particularly heartening for NBC, since Brian Williams subbed for Brokaw as anchor against Jennings and Rather. (Linda Vargas sat in for Jennings on Friday.)

That will be the evening match-up starting in December 2004, when Brokaw retires from "Nightly News." His competitors have looked forward to that as a time to make ratings inroads, but the lengthening of NBC's lead makes that job tougher.

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

Cable news ups and downs
The war in Iraq was very good news to the cable news channels, which saw substantial gains for the second quarter of the year. But holding on to those gains in the slow news month of June proved difficult.

Fox News Channel continued to dominate its cable rivals, according to Nielsen Media Research, with an average total-day audience of 1.3 million viewers for the April-through-June quarter. That was up 109 percent from a year ago, marginally surpassing Fox's first quarter this year, which at the time was the channel's record.

CNN followed with an average 790,000 viewers, up 58 percent from a year earlier. It was a record second quarter for CNN, but 17 percent below the first three months of this year.

Third-place MSNBC, with an average of 399,000 viewers, gained 61 percent year-to-year but fell 13 percent from the January-to-March period.

Toward the end of the quarter, the news wasn't so good. Viewers started to tune elsewhere in June, as all three networks dropped from their May figures. Month-to-month, Fox was off 20 percent, CNN was off 15 percent and MSNBC was off 13 percent.

(Elizabeth Jensen, Los Angeles Times)

WPTT offers variety
WPTT-AM (1360) is using its weekend specialty show hosts as fill-ins for the vacationing Lynn Cullen this week. Each will talk about subjects related to their respective areas of expertise.

"Real Estate 101" host Phil Marcus is on Monday. During the first hour, his guests are Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht and attorney Lee Markovitz, who'll talk about the controversial 1976 murder of George Wilhelm.

The lineup for the rest of the week: "Handyman Show" host Jack Etzel on home repair (Tuesday), "American Entrepreneur" host Ron Morris (Wednesday), "Birds and Nature" host/PG columnist Scott Shalaway (Thursday) and "Garden Party" host Jane Nugent (Friday).

Cullen's show airs weekdays from 10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

(Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer)

'Becker' back on fall schedule
"Becker," which looked like it might be canceled in May only to get a reprieve for midseason in June, is now back on CBS's fall schedule.

CBS opted to pull the new sitcom "The Stones" from the schedule Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. and replace it with "Becker" to give David E. Kelley's new series, "The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.," a more established lead-in.

"The Stones," about divorcing parents and their children, stars Judith Light and Robert Klein. It will now air at midseason.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

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