‘MORNING NEWS’ CONTINUES TO SOFTEN
Fans of Phyllis George can rest easy. When anchorman Bill Kurtis leaves the “CBS Morning News"--as confirmed late last week for TV critics gathered here--the broadcast will become more, not less, Georgesque.
So said CBS News president Ed Joyce, who reaffirmed what he had told representatives of the network affiliate stations two weeks ago: The “Morning News,” with George as co-anchor, is softening.
“I would certainly acknowledge that the program has moved to more of an interview and feature format,” Joyce said. George, the former sportscaster, “brings something needed to the broadcast.”
Joyce added, however, that the program still presents more hard news in its first half-hour than ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Friday will be Kurtis’ last day on the show, Joyce said, confirming earlier reports.
Between Joyce’s comments and an earlier presentation on the upcoming prime-time “magazine” show, “West 57th,” a picture emerged at the sessions here of a network belying its well-earned hard-news reputation wherever it thinks soft or stylized news can find a larger audience.
“West 57th,” dubbed the “yuppie news” by sources both inside and outside of CBS, is reported by a quartet of fresh-faced under-40 newspeople. It opens with a behind-the-scenes montage that looks more like “Lou Grant” than “60 Minutes.”
Andrew Lack, the 38-year-old executive producer of “West 57th,” which will premiere in August, swore up and down for the battery of critics at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel that his show is “not directed to some particular audience.” But there were some telling moments:
Lack took credit for the show’s title--the address of the CBS Broadcast Center in New York--with the explanation that it’s like “ ‘Knot’s Landing’ or ‘St. Elsewhere’ or ‘Hill Street Blues.’ This is where we work.”
He also referred several times to the “like sensibilities” of himself and the youngish reporting team and how they had a “different view from Bill (Moyers) and some of my more distinguished colleagues.” Lack, when asked, said he could not “put my finger on” what those sensibilities or differences were.
But Joyce joined Lack in denying the “yuppie news” handle, noting that he is 52 and “got excited” when he saw the pilot episode.
Whether or not CBS wants to tout the valued 25-to-40 demographics to advertisers, it clearly wants another success with prime-time news, a la “60 Minutes.” A news show is roughly half the cost of a dramatic series. Also, the show is owned by the network--not by a studio or independent producer--and therefore CBS can profit from overseas sales and spinoff uses.
CBS even went to the trouble of making a pilot for “West 57th” to better its odds. The show will air for six weeks during the summer, then will return with 13 more episodes in late 1985 or early 1986.
Kurtis, meanwhile, will be replaced on “Morning News” by a “journalist,” Joyce said, but one more comfortable with interviewing and feature reporting. Joyce said those tasks made Kurtis unhappy with his role on “Morning News,” and his departure was a “mutual” decision. Bob Schieffer will be a temporary replacement, but he is not willing to permanently leave the network’s Washington bureau, Joyce said. Kurtis most likely will go back to WBBM-TV, Chicago’s CBS-owned station, but will do occasional in-depth reports for the network.
In the executive producer’s slot at “Morning News,” Joyce said, Jon Katz “is a very real candidate for staying where he is,” although Susan Winston, former executive producer of “Good Morning America,” is being considered for the post, as reported earlier.