New CBS News Boss Looks to Right the Ship

Susan Zirin­sky in­her­its a unit trou­bled by mis­con­duct claims and lag­ging ratings

Variety - - Top Billing - By BRIAN STEIN­BERG @bris­tei

susan zirin­sky is a veteran hand at CBS News, hav­ing worked there since the days of Water­gate. But the ac­tions she takes over the next few months will have more to do with the fu­ture of one of the na­tion’s best-known news out­lets, not its past.

CBS on Jan. 6 said Zirin­sky would be­come pres­i­dent and se­nior ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of CBS News, a ti­tle that comes with chal­lenges as well as the usual glory. She will as­sume du­ties in March, re­plac­ing David Rhodes and be­com­ing the first woman to run the sto­ried di­vi­sion. But she takes com­mand of CBS News af­ter more than a year’s worth of tur­moil re­lated to fall­out from the de­par­ture of for­mer an­chor Char­lie Rose and for­mer CBS CEO Les­lie Moonves, both ousted af­ter sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions that both have de­nied.

Dur­ing that time, some of CBS News’ top prop­er­ties — “CBS This Morn­ing,”“face the Na­tion” and “CBS Evening News” — have seen their ratings slump af­ter ex­ec­u­tives tin­kered with an­chor line­ups. Zirin­sky will have to find ways to fix those pro­grams while mov­ing the di­vi­sion for­ward in an era when more news junkies are find­ing dig­i­tal ways to soothe their fix.

“Our goal is to grow the au­di­ence through the qual­ity of the con­tent to ev­ery broad­cast, and re­ally en­er­gize a com­pet­i­tive spirit that’s al­ready here,” Zirin­sky told Va­ri­ety in an interview.“but you have to have some time.”

CBS News opted to re­place Rose at “CBS This Morn­ing” with John Dick­er­son of “Face the Na­tion.” Dick­er­son was in turn suc­ceeded by Mar­garet Bren­nan. View­er­ship has suf­fered at both pro­grams. “CBS This Morn­ing” is par­tic­u­larly a con­cern, be­cause in re­cent years it had been a growth story for a news di­vi­sion once fa­mous for not be­ing able to mount a com­pet­i­tive a.m. show. What’s more, morn­ing-news pro­grams of­ten gen­er­ate a good chunk of the rev­enue needed to sup­port the bulk of broad­cast-net­work news­gath­er­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

Mean­while, the de­ci­sion to re­place Scott Pel­ley at “CBS Evening News” with Jeff Glor has not re­sulted in new au­di­ence. In­deed, the pro­gram has lost view­ers and fallen fur­ther be­hind its evening-news ri­vals at NBC and ABC. “60 Min­utes” (on which Pel­ley now con­trib­utes full-time) and “CBS Sun­day Morn­ing” have re­mained sta­ble, with the for­mer get­ting some of TV’S top view­er­ship num­bers, even though the show con­tin­ues to op­er­ate with­out a per­ma­nent show-

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