Thursday, March 16, 2006

Les Moonves wants to destroy CBS News

Les Moonves is hell-bent on destroying CBS News.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But dropping Katie Couric into the CBS fishbowl will upset the pH balance, kill off lots of other fishies and mean that all the water will have to be poured out and the bowl filled again.

For decades, CBS News has existed in a bubble in Manhattan, spawning new generations of CBS newspeople who have little or no experience working anywhere else but within the CBS structure and with the very particular view of CBS view of the world. It is, indeed an Upper West Side liberal view of the world that’s paradoxically concerned with maintaining the status quo and teaching America and the world how we should be living.

It’s no coincidence that the command center of the CBS newsroom is a glassed-in space called “the fishbowl.” That’s where the producers and people behind the scenes live. And when the filter of the fishbowl is removed, little fishies like Mary Mapes occasionally float to the top.

We’ve had our experience with CBS News. In fact, in the Foreward to Tabloid Baby, Burt Kearns writes of his time working for CBS News, and his decision to spurn an offer to carry on as Dan Rather’s afternoon update writer:

”...there was something about CBS that didn't smell right--something cultish in the way the employees saw themselves upholding some sacred tradition, carrying out some grand mission to spread the CBS orthodoxy…"

And in on page 453, Chapter 38, “Don Simpson Meets Butterbean,” there’s a mention of our meeting with Les Moonves at his office in Television City. It was 1996. Les was still getting his feet wet as head of CBS Entertainment and we were with a couple of notable TV visionaries pitching to Les a new hybrid reality drama series, ripped from the headlines.

Les couldn’t see the show on CBS. “You’re pitching A Current Affair for CBS prime time!” No, we’re not. “Yes, you are. It’s tabloid television. You will never see A Current Affair on the CBS network! We have an audience that expects something of us. We are the Tiffany Network!”

Sigh. Ten years down the line and CBS is doing the show we pitched in prime time, after all, in the guise of 48 Hours Mystery, and Les is doing tabloid television, living tabloid television (since he probably broke a corporate ethics rule or two when he began an extramarital affair with a CBS News employee ((pictured above)), made her a star and married her), and now personally doing whatever he can to destroy the final links to the Tiffany Network’s Tiffany division of the Good Night COMMA and Good Luck era, and destroy CBS News.

And make no mistake: hiring Katie Couric as anchorette of the CBS Evening News will destroy CBS News. Katie’s not a newsreader. She’s a personality. She’s a spunkball. She’s spoiled. She’ll be very competitive with the younger pretties CBS has been showcasing as serious network newswomen.

And if they assign her to 60 Minutes, she'll bring it down, as well. She’s a tabloid lightweight when she appears on Dateline.

Now we realize the networks have devalued the evening newscasts. NBC actually gave the spot to professional anchorman impersonator Brian Williams, and ABC immediately put half its Jennings succession team in harm’s way in Iraq— nearly killing him, while his partner went and got herself pregnant, showing how seriously she took her first potential year on the job. But still, when disaster strikes, we tend to tune into the Big Three, and we cringe at the thought of Katie Couric staying on the air for seventeen hours during the next 9/11, or even having a network news leader named “Katie.”

We realize. It’s all showbiz. And CBS News has not been a force of good in American discourse. It’s time they wash out the fishbowl, remove all the George Clooney algae and give it a clean, straight-talking start.

Burn the playhouse down, Les, but do it right. Events have shown that Les and the minds at CBS took Tabloid Baby seriously back in December when we suggested they stick with old Bob Schieffer and do a Charlie’s Angels-Steve Edwards bit with all the pretties they’re showcasing. But Bob wants out before he’s carried out.

So here goes. One last suggestion: if you’re going to hire a woman from the Today Show, go with Ann Curry. She’s a reader. She’s aging better than Katie. And her ploy of wearing bright red lipstick one day, then transparent gloss lipstick the next, gives a reason to tune in.

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