The Ruminator: Future anchors won’t carry so much weight

May 13, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Follow the money. Always the best idea.
Item: Last year “Today” show host Katie Couric signed a $60 million-plus deal to stay in the a.m. slot on NBC.
Item: ABC News anchor Peter Jennings is fighting to keep from taking a pay cut as he negotiates his contract this spring.
Item: CBS’s Dan Rather, already being underpaid compared with the aforementioned Jennings and “NBC Nightly News” anchorman Tom Brokaw at an estimated $7 million per year, quietly extended his contract to continue at CBS without a big bump in salary.
Item: NBC’s current king of news, Mr. B, is apparently fighting off a plan to replace him with cable guy Brian Williams-younger and also less expensive than Mr. B.
Item: CBS, in its Grumble, er, Gumbel-less a.m. show, is said to have offered Meredith Vieira $4 million-plus to view getting up early, and she turned it down. (Here’s an irresistible ironic aside on the Vieira situation. CBS wanted her bad-no mistaking that. And ABC wanted to keep her just as bad. So what did ABC do? It offered her hosting chores on the syndicated “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” And who are the biggest customers for that show? Why, the CBS owned-and-operated stations, of course.)
Item: No one at ABC is suggesting that either Charlie Gibson, whose contract is expiring (Hey, Charlie to replace Gumbel? Let’s get that one started), or Diane Sawyer at “GMA” take a sympathy pay cut to make Peter Jennings feel better about himself.
Item: Two weeks ago, the winning network evening newscast had a 6-and-change rating-and it isn’t even summer yet. Wait until July and August, and the winner will have even lower numbers.
Item: Matt Lauer signs at $8 million per, doubling his current salary. Now we know where in the world Matt’s going-looking for places to stash his cash.
What is this all about, you ask? Well the point here is that the money-if not the power-at network news places is shifting. Not long ago the evening newscasts were the crown jewels of West 57th Street, West 66th Street and West of Fifth at 30 Rock. But wait, what’s that I hear Jennings’ agent angrily raving: “Nevermore. Nevermore.”
With the expected fading out of Brokaw, Rather and Jennings by the end of this decade or even sooner, the heirs apparent such as Williams will not be the dominant forces that Tom, Dan and Peter have been. That’s both on TV and in the newsrooms.
Mr. Rather, Mr. Brokaw and Mr. Jennings are more than just anchors and a terrible troika of ego. They run their various news divisions. Sure, there are network presidents, but they come and go, while their anchors stay in place. Executive producers of the shows come and go, but the anchors stay in place. Correspondents come and go, but the anchors stay in place.
Network newsies have told the Ruminator there isn’t a key decision made at ABC News, NBC News or CBS News without at least the consulting of the big anchors. I predict whoever replaces the guys will not have the clout we’ve seen because their shows are no longer the big money makers they once were and because the networks’ new news interest is the money factories’ turning out the mix of chat, news, promos, music and the cooking of the morning shows.
After Brokaw, Jennings and Rather have left their anchor slots, it is not out of the question that election night coverage will be dominated by a morning glory, a Lauer or a Couric, and not by the anchor of the networks’ evening news shows. And God forbid if there is another day like 9/11. Don’t expect the evening newsperson to anchor day and night. It will look more like cable then, with a number of anchors handing it off to the next shift.
There’ve been many predictions about big changes in the TV landscape. But they never seem to happen. This time they will, as news and the traditional news anchors become less and less important to their corporate masters and ultimately less and less important to the viewing public. You can take it to the bank, because this is a change the networks are taking to the bank. Hey, Mr. Koppel, are you listening?