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Declining Ratings Taint Heyward’s Tenure

Oct 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Once one of CBS News’ best and brightest, Andrew Heyward left the job of news president last week after a long run marked by stubborn ratings declines and, more recently, high-profile scandal.

When Mr. Heyward took over CBS News in 1996, few could have imagined such twists to his professional story. He was one of the network’s news stars from the time he joined the division in 1981 as a field producer for “CBS Evening News With Dan Rather.”

In 1988 he developed and launched “48 Hours,” a groundbreaking newsmagazine show that went on to win awards under the supervision of executive producer Susan Zirinsky. “48 Hours Mystery,” the current incarnation, is now having one of its best seasons in years.

But Mr. Heyward was as stymied as his predecessors in his efforts to find a morning show that could compete with ABC and NBC. He extended the “Early Show” franchise to sleepy Saturday mornings in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2002, after “The Early Show” with Bryant Gumbel and newcomer Jane Clayson foundered, that CBS News found an improved third-place formula in a four-anchor ensemble.

He swam against the receding tide of prime-time newsmagazines-and the wishes of “60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt-when he spun off “60 Minutes Wednesday” in 1999 with a younger cadre of reporters and Dan Rather as the anchor and frequent contributor.

By the time CBS Chairman Les Moonves canceled the show last spring, it was for dwindling ratings and rising older demos, and came against the backdrop of an independent investigation into the show’s report on President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.

That piece, based on documents many conservative bloggers claimed were forgeries and which the network could not authenticate, became a major embarrassment for the network. It resulted in the forced exit of one news executive and three producers, and is widely believed to have led to an earlier-than-planned retirement for anchor Dan Rather.

Mr. Heyward has not necessarily left the media business, but he joked to TVWeek: “I won’t be starting a blog.”

More seriously, in an e-mail

to CBS News staffers, he said:

“I do not intend to ‘pursue other interests’ or even ‘spend more time with my family,’ wonderful as it is. I am going to remain fully engaged in the media business. My goal is to explore that frontier just over the horizon where journalism, technology and the needs of a new generation intersect in exciting and important ways.”