May 24, 2024

Media Decoder: Couric Replacement to Stay on at ’60 Minutes’

12:10 p.m. | Updated Scott Pelley, the “60 Minutes” correspondent, will succeed Katie Couric as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” next month — and he will keep working almost full-time on “60 Minutes,” the popular newsmagazine.

Scott Pelley will succeed Katie Couric as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” next month.John Paul Filo/CBS Scott Pelley will succeed Katie Couric as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” next month.

CBS confirmed the anchor shift on Tuesday, capping more than a month of speculation. In turning to Mr. Pelley, CBS is choosing someone who many CBS viewers already know and trust from his time on “60 Minutes.”

The network’s announcement did not mention Ms. Couric or her last day on the job, but it said that Mr. Pelley will start work on Wednesday, June 6.

Mr. Pelley said in an interview that he intended to “bring ‘60 Minutes’ values to the ‘Evening News.’” Essentially, he and Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News and the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” want to take what is working on that newsmagazine and apply it to the ailing nightly newscast. Mr. Pelley described those values as “original reporting, unique insight, and fairness to everyone involved.”

“60 Minutes” is the most-watched weekly news program in America, averaging about 15 million viewers on Sunday nights, while the “Evening News” is the least-watched daily network newscast, averaging about six million viewers on weekdays. Ms. Couric, who took over the newscast with great fanfare in 2006, was unable to stem the stubborn, decades-long decline of the “Evening News” audience size.

Asked if he perceived the “Evening News” to be damaged, Mr. Pelley said no, citing the newscast’s many awards won under Ms. Couric’s tenure and praising the staff of the news organization.

“We’ve got enormous strength,” he said. “What the broadcast needs is a little bit of leadership. The correspondents and producers need to understand that we’re going to be about original reporting and about bringing unique insight into the news, so that we add value for the viewers.”

Mr. Pelley, like the anchors before him going back to Walter Cronkite, will be the managing editor as well as the anchor of the “Evening News.” He suggested that he had aspired to be the anchor for that reason above all.

“The anchoring, at the end of the day, is not very important,” he said. “What matters is the managing editor job. That is: coming in early; working with the producers and the correspondents; figuring out how to cover the news.”

He concluded the interview by saying, “We’re gonna lift this thing, and we’re all going to do it together. Everybody’s shoulder is going to go into this. And that’s the only way it’s possible.”

Mr. Pelley’s comments will likely spawn some sighs of relief inside CBS News, which has been abuzz for months about Ms. Couric’s expected exit. A new anchor represents a fresh start for the broadcast and, indirectly, for the entire news organization.

Mr. Pelley said the plan for him to take over the “Evening News” came together “in the last six weeks or so.” Inside CBS News, Mr. Pelley is perceived to be a favorite of Mr. Fager, who was promoted to chairman of the news division last winter.

In what was perceived as an indication that he wants CBS News to be known for hard news, Mr. Fager tempered some of the network’s comprehensive plans for covering the royal wedding last month. While the royal wedding was taking place, Mr. Pelley was working on a “60 Minutes” segment that took him to Iraq.

While taking over the “Evening News,” he said he will keep his “entire team” at “60 Minutes,” and he said he will have a “very significant number of stories” each season. (Seasons of the newsmagazine start in September and end in May.)

Mr. Pelley currently has as many as 20 “60 Minutes” segments each season — “more than a full-time job,” he quipped. After he becomes the “Evening News” anchor, he said, “I will probably be doing something on the order of 15, maybe one or two less than that.”

He said, “You may ask, as my wife has, ‘How will you pull that off?’ My answer to you is the same as my answer to her: we’ll see.”

He is likely to lean heavily on his producers. He said that when his nightly newscast travels to a breaking news event — say, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan or the shooting in Tucson — some of his “60 Minutes” producers will travel with him, too, scouting for possible Sunday segments.

Asked if viewers will see “60 Minutes” correspondents like Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl on the “Evening News,” Mr. Pelley said that it is a “possibility,” but not a specific plan.

Starting immediately, Mr. Pelley will need to get to know his new staff at the “Evening News.” Although “60 Minutes” is a part of CBS News, it is a very specific part — one that is housed in a building across the street from the rest of the news division. Mr. Pelley said he had barely seen his “Evening News” colleagues since moving over to the newsmagazine about a decade ago.

Mr. Pelley’s salary is unknown, but is is almost certainly lower than Ms. Couric’s salary. She was wooed to CBS with an approximately $15 million-per-year salary, a fact that later stirred some resentment inside the news division when there were staffing cuts.

When Ms. Couric was hired by CBS, regular appearances on “60 Minutes” were written into her contract, but once she arrived at the network, she found a chilly reception from some of the staff members at the venerable program.

Some of Ms. Couric’s associates said that the chilliness seemed to stem from the top — Mr. Fager — but that view was disputed by people close to him, who said that Ms. Couric had praised his stewardship of her segments.

Her appearances on the show were far fewer than she hoped for — averaging not even five a year. Her contract with CBS News ends on Monday, June 4.

Ms. Couric said in a statement Tuesday, “Scott is a great reporter and a real gentleman who cares deeply about the news. I know he’ll put his own unique imprimatur on the broadcast and will do a great job carrying on the rich tradition of ‘The CBS Evening News.’ ”

Bill Carter contributed reporting.

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