March 10, 2006

Schieffer a reluctant hero at CBS News

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - When Bob Schieffer took
over at the "CBS Evening News" a year ago tonight, it was
supposed to be only a temporary assignment.

The CBS News veteran had long ago thought the route to the
anchor chair was closed to him. He had been passed over in 1980
when CBS looked to replace Walter Cronkite, and Dan Rather
spent 24 years in the job. Schieffer worked in Washington,
anchored the weekend evening news and, beginning in 1993,
moderated "Face the Nation."

So he was as surprised as anyone when CBS chief Leslie
Moonves asked him to come to New York to right the ship after
the "60 Minutes Wednesday" scandal and Rather's departure. But
he did it, knowing his network needed him.

"We were in a deep hole, and I wanted to do what I could do
about getting us out of that," said Schieffer, who turned 69
late last month. "It was more about CBS than it was about me at
this point in my life."

Yet what all sides said would be a temporary assignment --
requiring Schieffer to anchor only six weeks -- turned into
much, much longer. A year later, Schieffer is still in the
chair. And it's an assignment that will stretch for the
foreseeable future, until either Katie Couric or someone else
becomes anchor.

Schieffer politely declines to talk about whether Couric
will come to CBS, to let the process work behind the scenes,
though he has said that she would be an asset to the broadcast.
It's clear that he doesn't want the job, which already requires
him to work five days a week in New York and then commute home
to Washington to do "Face the Nation" on Sunday. He has said
that he would like to enjoy retirement, possibly beginning when
he's 70. He's got plans to write a book about the relationship
between former presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines
Johnson, and he also is heavily involved in the Schieffer
School of Journalism at his alma mater, Texas Christian

But in his year at the anchor desk, Schieffer has not only
steadied the ship with former executive producer Jim Murphy but
now built with Rome Hartman the template for the broadcast of
the future. CBS News president Sean McManus credits Schieffer
for helping to highlight some of the network's up-and-coming
stars -- Lara Logan, Byron Pitts, Sharon Alfonsi and Jim
Axelrod among them -- and providing a morale boost to CBS News
in front of and behind the camera.

"We're trying to identify the young people here that we can
build this news department around for the next 15 years,"
Schieffer said. "My job is to put them on television as much as
we can."

"It's for me an enormous comfort level and an enormous
asset to have him here," McManus said.

Schieffer's on-air presence is decidedly un-Ratherlike,
even though they're both Texans. The former newspaperman
delivers the news in simple, plain English and eschews
complicated debriefs by just asking questions of correspondents
at the end of their prepared reports.

"The way you communicate with people on television is by
having a conversation, not preaching a sermon from high on
Mount Olympus," Schieffer said.

The ratings are improving. CBS is the only network to have
seen increases season-to-date compared with last year. And
while it's still in third place, McManus said Schieffer's doing
a great job.

"We've still got a long way to go in terms of the ratings,
but we're in the right direction," McManus said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter