Tuesday, December 06, 2005

'The CBS Daily Show With Jon Stewart'

There was an off-the-wall kind of report circulating in some circles last week that The Daily Show might move over from Comedy Central to CBS and shoulder the Evening News into oblivion. I couldn't envision this ever happening, but I do have a pretty vivid imagination, so I began trying to imagine life without the CBS Evening News With (you supply the name).

Frankly--and frighteningly, considering that I spent seven of the best years of my life as Paris correspondent for CBS News--it wasn't all that difficult to imagine. First, let's put ourselves in the place of the average Evening News viewer. He or she is somewhere north of 50 years old (probably considerably north) and has been watching it since Walter Cronkite (remember him, kids? Probably not) was in the anchor chair. So suddenly these ancestral viewers would have to find an alternative. It wouldn't be all that hard. All these network news shows look pretty much alike.

Perhaps they'd settle on Brian Williams--a nice enough fellow, adequately blow-dried and with a refined sensibility, if last week's reports from New Orleans were any indication. Or they could try The Walt Disney Co.'s (nyse: DIS - news - people ) ABC News, which just named the virtually interchangeable Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff as co-anchor successors to Peter Jennings. And there's always the likes of Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper on Time Warner's (nyse: TWX - news - people ) CNN or, let's not leave them out, Brit Hume and Shepard Smith on News Corp.'s (nyse: NWS - news - people ) Fox News Network, or Keith Olbermann and Rita Cosby on General Electric's (nyse: GE - news - people ) MSNBC.

Would anyone really notice if there were simply five evening news broadcasts instead of six? CBS News, as it's now constituted, might think so. I'm not so sure. So let's see what burying the Evening News might do for CBS News.

At one point, CBS, now part of Viacom, (nyse: VIA.B - news - people ), had the largest corps of foreign and domestic correspondents and the largest bureau system of any television news gathering operation on the planet. When I was based in Paris, in any given week I could be shipped off to any one of three continents. I recall one particularly frenetic day, when they thought a boat had gone down with a load of plutonium, when I was in four countries in a single 24-hour period. That just doesn't happen any more--not at CBS, not in any other network news operation. It's way too expensive.

Still, today's pared-to-the-bones CBS could save quite a lot more money by going The Daily Show route. First, comedy writers earn a lot less than senior producers or correspondents on a network evening news show. You might want to hold on to a few such correspondents and producers just in case the pope dies or the president gets shot or there's some other history-altering moment and you want do something more elaborate than simply poke fun at it, as Jon Stewart does so effectively on Comedy Central. Still, you don't need to have a whole regiment of correspondents, producers and camera crews suited up and ready to go 24/7.

Moreover, The Daily Show even has the beauty of being owned by Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom, which owns CBS.

Finally, you don't need to jump through hoops to find creative means to keep this whole infrastructure humming along profitably. That's because there won't be any such infrastructure.


Turn The Morning Show over to the entertainment division, which does cooking shows and movie promos better anyway. Sunday Morning, 60 Minutes and Face the Nation can continue to totter along on their own without a whole bureau system and news infrastructure. I mean, they're not even located in the main Broadcast Center on West 57th Street, though without that huge news operation to house, they might be able to move back into the home of the mother ship and save CBS a bundle on off-site rental costs.

At the same time, you could also shutter both domestic and foreign assignment desks, lose a half-dozen vice presidents and even sell off CBS Radio to some place like Clear Channel Communications (nyse: CCU - news - people ), or Sirius Satellite Radio (nasdaq: SIRI - news - people ), where it might nicely complement Howard Stern--after all, he'll have two 24-hour networks to fill seven days a week come January. NBC shed its radio operation years ago.

All of this is said with a hearty expectation--indeed hope--that none of this will come to pass. I was present at the creation of the present iteration of CBS News in 1987, and I can attest to the fact that it was a crushingly revolutionary change. That was when Larry Tisch bought CBS and undertook a little profit-margin improvement, laying off 300 people, closing down a dozen news bureaus and effectively eviscerating the platinum standard of broadcast news, which was never quite the same again.

Still, one can only wonder what it might sound like when 6:30 P.M. rolls around on the East Coast and the booth announcer solemn intones, "This is The CBS Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Say, did you hear the one about..."

from www.forbes.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interesting prospect

Sociable

Amazon Deals

There was an error in this gadget