Kaplan to Take Helm of ‘CBS Evening News’

Mar 8, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Veteran news producer Rick Kaplan is getting back in the nightly news game as the man chosen to ride to the rescue of “CBS Evening News With Katie Couric.”

CBS News & Sports President Sean McManus made the announcement Thursday morning, confirming the rumors of Mr. Kaplan’s hire that began flying late Wednesday night.

Mr. Kaplan has earned a reputation for being tough as nails throughout his three-decade career, which included stints as president of both MSNBC and CNN and numerous Emmy Awards.

“Few broadcast journalists have a list of accomplishments and the history of success that Rick has had-the list is truly extraordinary,” Mr. McManus said. “I’m very much looking forward to working with Rick and having the benefit of his vast experience and knowledge as we continue to build the best evening news broadcast at CBS News.”

“Rick Kaplan is a big personality with big ideas,” said Ms. Couric, the broadcast’s anchor and managing editor. “Though I’ve never worked directly with him, I know Rick is an extraordinarily experienced producer who has exciting plans for our broadcast. I’m thrilled he has decided to come home to CBS News.”

“I spent the first 10 years of my career at CBS News, including three years working on the ‘CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite,'” Mr. Kaplan said. “Coming home to that broadcast, especially as executive producer, is particularly thrilling. Katie is an enormously talented journalist and broadcaster, and this is an extraordinary opportunity for us to grow the broadcast in every way.”

Mr. Kaplan’s hiring came as a surprise to Ms. Couric’s deposed “Evening News” executive producer, Rome Hartman, whose new assignment was not announced. The soft-spoken Mr. Hartman was plucked from the secure ranks of “60 Minutes” last summer to launch the $15-million-a-year news star as the first women to solo as anchor of a broadcast network flagship newscast.

After launching Sept. 5 to some 13 million viewers, Ms. Couric’s ratings have steadily eroded to 7.5 million of late. That leaves the third-place nightly news program slightly deeper in the cellar among total viewers than it was a year ago under her interim predecessor, Bob Schieffer. Ms. Couric has, however, attracted a slightly younger audience, allowing CBS News to say her newscast is in third place in that demographic.

Marking her six-month anniversary on “Evening News,” Ms. Couric this week told a Manhattan community audience that she is “patient” about the ratings. She said she is becoming resigned to ratings evidence indicating viewers who watch evening newscasts want the day’s news rather than the softer segments that marked her program when it debuted.

The highly competitive CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves would have had to sign off on the change of executive producers. Mr. Moonves personally chose and secured Ms. Couric to lead “Evening News” because of her stardom won in 15 years on NBC’s top-ranked “Today” morning show.

Mr. McManus, the longtime CBS Sports president whom Mr. Moonves asked to double as CBS News president in 2005, also has positioned himself as patient with regard to Ms. Couric’s ratings. His executive team has suggested everything from subpar local lead-ins to possible public discomfort with a woman anchor have been to blame for her stagnant ratings.

Mr. Kaplan’s hiring may bring other changes in the CBS news operation’s chain of command. He may report to CBS News VP Paul Friedman, who oversees hard newsgathering, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Hartman reported to Mr. McManus. That would make Mr. Friedman at least a de facto No. 2 to Mr. McManus, who has been without a second-in-command.

Mr. Kaplan worked with Mr. Friedman at ABC News, where the latter was executive producer of “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings.” During that period, Mr. Kaplan helped establish “Nightline” as a signature show for the network and launched “Primetime Live” before heading over to CNN. His stint at CNN, where he attempted to remake the all-news cable network, ended in the wake of the Operation Tailwind scandal.

Mr. Kaplan next took on the thankless task of trying to raise MSNBC from the cable news cellar for 2 1/2 years before being replaced by legal pundit Dan Abrams last year.

(Editor: Baumann)