Network Known for Stability Doesn’t Show It With Pelley’s Departure

CBS has long prided itself on smooth transitions involving key personnel, such as Glenn Geller stepping down as entertainment president earlier in the week. Scott Pelley’s exit from the network’s evening news anchor chair has been anything but smooth, notes the New York Times.

While on assignment in Syria, Pelley had movers start packing up his office Tuesday, which surprised his bosses and other network execs. (The packing presumably included an encased softball on his desk, a gift from a viewer who felt Pelley went way too easy on Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein in an interview.) CBS had planned to announce Pelley’s departure from the anchor chair next week, reports Page Six, when he was back from the Middle East.

Pelley is expected to anchor the newscast Monday, and perhaps beyond, before Anthony Mason takes over on an interim basis. Pelley’s official successor has not been named.

On Wednesday, CBS confirmed Pelley’s departure, following many media reports saying the same thing. He’ll focus full time on 60 Minutes, which is celebrating its 50th season and has a new competitor in NBC’s Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly, which starts June 4. Besides anchoring the program, Kelly will report some of its three weekly segments, says USA Today, with others handled by NBC News correspondents such as Harry Smith, Kate Snow and Cynthia McFadden.

Kelly described the Sunday Night content to the paper as "a mix of hard-hitting pieces that are somewhat explosive and news-making with more inspirational longer-form profiles and stories.”

Pelley has always taken great pride in his 60 Minutes work and in being part of that team. In a B&C profile back in 2007, he called his 60 Minutes post “just the greatest job conceivable for a guy like me.” Amidst speculation that he would be named evening news anchor, which happened in 2011, he described that as “largely an office job.”

Pelley has been doing double duty on the evening news and 60 Minutes since he was named anchor, though, as the Times notes, his 60 Minutes output has been cut in half over the past year with the presidential election and President Trump’s opening months in the White House. David Rhodes, CBS News president, said in a memo to staff: “Scott excels in long-form reporting and is one of the reasons 60 Minutes is America’s No. 1 news program. As we prepare to mark the anniversary, it is important to have Scott dedicated full time to that franchise.”

Ratings have been a struggle for CBS Evening News, which has an average of 6.9 million viewers, well off the 8.4 million watching NBC’s evening program. News analyst Andrew Tyndall says none of the three evening newscasts has been able to capitalize on the heightened interest in political news among viewers with Trump in the White House—at least not in the manner that the cable news competition has.

Tyndall says Pelley has thrived on war reporting. He writes:

Pelley's newscast delivers more international reporting than its rivals, especially war reporting, often taking the form of features, vignettes capturing sights and sounds from the front, rather than the incremental new development of the day. Pelley's CBS Evening News looks like 60 Minutes too, relying more on its own proprietary video edited with soundbites, less on graphics, visual effects, found footage, chyrons, and display headlines.

Tyndall says a little less 60 Minutes might work best for the evening newscast:

Perhaps CBS Evening News needs a little bit less of the influence of 60 Minutes, a little bit more of CBS' Sunday Morning and Face the Nation. After Scott Pelley, why not anchor Jane Pauley with John Dickerson as her sidekick commentator?

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.