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McManus: No 'News’ for Schieffer

Editors' Note: The following interview with Sean McManus was conducted on Thursday, June 5, prior to the death of his father, Jim McKay, on Saturday.As chief of CBS’s news and sports divisions, Sean McManus oversees plenty of moving pieces. And while this past week he named a new head of The Early Show and helped land the high-profile Inside the NFL for Showtime, one thing he says he is not going to do is put Bob Schieffer on the Evening News desk again.

McManus talks to B&C’s Marisa Guthrie about these moves and what’s next, including who will handle convention coverage and an upcoming CBS Sports reorganization.

You recently persuaded Bob Schieffer to postpone his retirement. How else may you use him besides political coverage?

It’s just a continuation of his current role at CBS News, both on Face the Nation and [appearing on] the Evening News and The Early Show with political coverage. But nothing new is anticipated as far as his role at CBS. He’s got enough jobs already, and that’s probably the way it’s going to continue.

So he won’t be filling in on the Evening News desk again?

No. That is not anticipated, just a further extension of his current role.

You also recently weathered another spate of piranha-like media speculation about Katie Couric’s future. At what point does this type of coverage affect your brand?

I think the negativity has died down dramatically over the past couple of months. I think our brand is affected by the quality of our news coverage. And I watch what Katie does every night and I would put it up there against what anybody else is doing on network and cable television right now. And if we keep doing that, the brand will be just fine. Nobody likes to read negative press, whether you’re an anchor or the president of a news division. I feel extremely good about CBS News, and anybody who thinks we’re failing in any area other than the fact that we would like more people to be watching the 6:30 broadcast has an inaccurate view of what’s happening at CBS News. The effect that all of those articles have had on CBS News, you don’t like to read it, but we’re focused on doing our job.

Who besides Schieffer is going to anchor your convention coverage? Will Katie Couric be there?

We haven’t really announced it yet, but you can assume that we will go with the team we used on Super Tuesday with Katie, Bob, Jeff [Greenfield]. We’re assuming Scott Pelley will have a role also. We’ll have the usual cast of correspondents, Chip Reid and Dean Reynolds.

You just upped Zev Shalev from senior producer to executive producer ofThe Early Show after a particularly rocky several months. What are your expectations?

I don’t expect anything to happen in weeks or even months, but gradually to start shrinking the gap between ourselves and ABC and NBC. And I think creatively, he’s got a lot of ideas. I think the show is a very good broadcast right now. But I think we need to continue to do unique programming that the other two morning shows aren’t doing, and we probably haven’t done enough of that in previous years to really make The Early Show as distinctive as it could be.

How much of the Inside the NFL deal do you think was motivated by Showtime’s ability to take a shot at HBO, its premium cable arch-rival that jettisoned the show?

I think any time you have an opportunity to pick up a very high-profile program that heretofore was on one of your competitors, it’s a great opportunity. It’s one of those shows that has a very loyal following. I’m looking forward to using the heritage and the tradition that the show has and injecting it with new on-air talent, a slightly new approach and really revitalize what is a great institution on cable television.

Who will we see from CBS Sports on Inside the NFL?

We may use one or two people from CBS Sports. But we’re not just going to make it a spin-off of The NFL Today. I would imagine that if there are four major co-hosts of the show, a maximum of two of those will be from CBS Sports.

How are things without Tony Pettiti, your longtime executive producer at CBS Sports, who recently left to head Major League Baseball’s new channel? Any other personnel moves on the horizon?

I feel really good about CBS Sports, and [this] week we’re going to be announcing a reorganization with some expanded roles for some people at CBS. Other than the College Sports Network, all of the restructuring at CBS Sports is going to be made internally. We’re not bringing in anybody from the outside.