LEFT COAST BIAS: Sean McManus’ Busy Season

If you think there is so much stress at work right now that you may give your pharmacist an adjoining office, I have good news. It could be worse.

You could be Sean McManus.

This week alone, the head of both CBS Sports and CBS News has to stabilize the problematic Early Show after a recent shakeup, deal with the aftermath of last week’s job cuts across the news division, plan the April 27 Democratic debate to be hosted by Katie Couric and oversee broadcasts of the NCAA men’s basketball finals and golf’s Masters Tournament.

If that were me, I’d be popping pills like a former child star. But McManus apparently thrives on the action, which may explain why he sounded so relaxed when we spoke late last week. Then again, he was headed to the Final Four and then the Masters. Right now, running the sports group seems a lot less stressful than running CBS News.

“It’s a bit of a refuge sometimes,” he said of sporting events. “To go to San Antonio [for the NCAA Final Four] is an awfully nice break from what is a very difficult but rewarding job [in news].”

“Difficult” is an understatement. First, McManus had to pull the plug on Shelley Ross’ ill-fated stint as head of CBS’ morning show. “That’s an added element I hadn’t planned on dealing with,” he acknowledged.

Now he has to figure out what’s next for the long-struggling program. He has some internal candidates to replace Ross, but he is also looking outside the division. Most of all, he just wants some stability.

“It’s a big priority,” he said. “To have the number of personnel moves we’ve had has been very challenging.”

Last week’s paring of about 1% of his news staff didn’t help. “It was relatively minimal, but it is always painful,” he said.

On a more positive note, McManus now has to oversee plans for the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton debate on his network, which Katie Couric will host following 60 Minutes. That just got finalized late last week. And McManus knows the debate will give Couric some attention that’s not about her show’s ratings for once.

“I think it’s important with respect to the amount of attention the media has placed on it, and it’s a great way to showcase all of the good work Katie has done on the elections,” McManus said. “She wants the opportunity to showcase her ability. I think she deserves it.”

So with all that, McManus last week was looking forward to getting on the plane Friday to head to San Antonio for Saturday’s semifinals and Monday’s title game in college hoops.

But even that had its stresses. He’s a Duke grad, and the school’s archrival, North Carolina, made it to the Final Four while Duke got thumped weeks ago. Worse yet, UNC is a great ratings draw, so if the Tar Heels made it to Monday’s title game, that would be great for CBS.

“That’s something I haven’t come to grips with,” he said last week, before Saturday’s semifinals.

Tuesday at 6 a.m., he’ll fly back to New York and handle the news division. Wednesday night, he heads to Augusta, Ga., for one of sports’ elite events, The Masters. “If you ask any sports fan to name two events they’d want to go to, the Final Four and Masters would probably be on many lists,” he said. “So that’s not a bad week.”

The fun will end Sunday night, when he has to fly back to New York. With CBS’ major sporting events over for the time being, 85% of his time will then be devoted to the news division.

So all he has to do is plan a debate and fix a morning show that has been broken for decades -- and do everything else now with less staff. It’s an opportunity -- and schedule -- he relishes.

“Without question, it’s the busiest month ever for me,” he said. “But also the most exhilarating.”