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CBS Cancels ’60 Minutes Wednesday’

May 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

CBS News President Andrew Heyward was working the phones early Wednesday morning to pass along the grim, though not altogether surprising, news to his staff and talent that the network is canceling “60 Minutes Wednesday” for the 2005-06 season.

It was falling ratings and the grayest audience in CBS’s prime-time lineup, not journalistic damage from “Memogate,” that did in the seven-season-old newsmagazine, according to the network.

“Not even slightly,” said Leslie Moonves, the chairman and CEO of CBS and co-president and co-chief operating officer of Viacom, addressing whether the decision was influenced by the fallout from a story about President Bush’s wartime service. “If ’60 Minutes’ was getting a 10 [rating] it would still be on the air.”

The controversial report, which used unauthenticated documents, resulted in an outside investigation, Dan Rather’s abdication of the “CBS Evening News” anchor desk a year early and the forced exit of four news producers and executives. Mr. Moonves said earlier this year that “60 Minutes Wednesday” was in danger of losing its berth because it was a drag on the network’s Wednesday night performance.

“It was a ratings call, not a content call,” Mr. Moonves said at a breakfast press conference to announce the fall lineup.

Though Mr. Moonves told reporters earlier in the week that CBS locked down its new schedule May 10 and had not wavered since then, he said the decision was not shared with the news division until this Tuesday to prevent leaks.

He said Mr. Heyward is “working on a plan” for coping with the fallout from losing one of CBS News’ three prime-time hours-37-season-old “60 Minutes” will remain in its familiar 7-8 p.m. time slot on Sundays and “48 Hours Investigates” will remain at 10 p.m. Saturdays.

“We’re hoping to incorporate as many people as possible” into other roles, said Mr. Moonves, adding that the news division will be given some prime-time hours for specials and single-subject shows to help reduce the need for staff cuts.

“Obviously, there will be some jobs lost,” said one source familiar with news division staffing.

A CBS News spokeswoman said the division had no comment.

Mr. Moonves said he expects Mr. Rather to be reassigned to “60 Minutes,” where he has worked before. But he added, “I doubt he would be named co-editor” as other “60 Minutes” correspondents are. Some expect the same for distinguished foreign correspondent Bob Simon.

Although “60 Minutes'” Sunday edition also has a graying audience-and on-air ensemble of correspondents-Mr. Moonves said “60 Minutes” is safe. “You couldn’t kill it with a stick,” he said. “Nothing will endanger ’60 Minutes.'”

The roles for others whose jobs are jeopardized by the “Wednesday” cancellation could be affected by changes still to come on “CBS Evening News.”

Mr. Moonves praised Bob Schieffer, the “Face the Nation” moderator and interim “Evening News” anchor, for bringing “stability” to the third-ranked network flagship newscast and for buying the network additional time in which to think about how to revamp it.

Mr. Moonves said no format or deadline has been defined. “We’re looking at all kinds of things,” he said.

He also said that the speculation about CBS reaching out to Katie Couric, co-anchor of NBC’s “Today,” has been accurate. “We had a conversation with Katie,” he said. But he predicted that Ms. Couric, whose contract is said to be up for renewal next year, would remain with “Today” for many years to come.