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Singin' the News Blues

I don't believe I've ever heard more folks in the industry bemoaning
the state of television news. Virtually everywhere, either the people running
the joints appear on the way out, or they have just recently arrived. The
result: Almost everyone in the game operates in a state of uncertainty.

Believe it. A day doesn't pass by when I don't hear about one of a
long list of news executives with big bull's-eye targets on their backs. At
NBC News, division President Neal Shapiro is all but out the door. With MSNBC
not even third in the cable news race anymore (it's fourth, behind CNN's
Headline News), there's also an ominous drumbeat about President Rick Kaplan.
The recent slow start of The Situation With Tucker
only exacerbated the situation with Kaplan. At least,
nobody's making that kind of noise about CNBC President Mark Hoffman—but
then, he's been on the job only since February, and when a new guy takes
over, the rumors start about the people below him.

CBS News may be the most depressed and destabilized operation of all.
CBS News President Andrew Heyward announced a couple of weeks ago his
network's foray into 24-hour broadband news, but he faces massive challenges
in taking on ABC, CNN and other players with more resources and deeper pockets
that are already in that space. It has been four months since Dan Rather
stepped down from third-place CBS Evening News, and no
strategy for the post-Rather era has emerged, other than to keep Bob Schieffer
in his temp job as the replacement anchor. And CBS' The Early
remains a laggard in the morning-news race, despite the
network's prime time strength. Somehow it wasn't a big surprise when nobody
from the news division showed up at the critics' press tour in Los Angeles
last week: There would have been uncomfortable questions and not much new at
CBS News to use as a distraction.

“Everywhere you go in the news business, it just plain sucks,” says
one agent who handles news talent. “When clients ask me what's the most
stable place to work, I say ABC News—and it's not like that place is
exactly a steady ship.”

True. Good Morning America is a credible challenger
to Today, and long-running newsmagazines
20/20 and Primetime chug along. But
with Peter Jennings battling cancer, there's uncertainty at ABC
World News Tonight
. Ted Koppel will remain at
Nightline until December, and even now the show's
producers are actively tinkering with the format, trying to rejuvenate the
venerable newscast on the fly to ensure it has a future after Koppel's

CNN is in the midst of its own transition period. Since last November,
when Jon Klein took over the reins, there has been a revolving door of
executive producers for various shows—in addition to all the other unrest
stirred by the arrival of a new boss. Up-and-comer Bill Hemmer was pushed out
of his American Morning anchor slot; he turned down a gig
as CNN's White House correspondent and quit the network. Last week, Hemmer
signed a three-year deal reportedly worth more than $1 million a year at Fox
News Channel. Meanwhile, at CNN, the prime time lineup Klein inherited still
lags way behind Fox's, despite the executive-producer changes. The
network's sister channel, Headline News, has shown dynamic growth, almost
entirely due to legal eagle Nancy Grace. But that, of course, prompts
whispering about how long it will be before Grace bumps one of the also-rans
out of a job at the mothership.

And then there's Fox News. From the outside looking in, Fox appears to
be an island of stability in a crazy-competitive market. But how much growth is
there in a mature business, even if you're the cable news leader? No wonder
FNC Chairman Roger Ailes appears to be in no hurry to launch a Fox News
financial channel. As the rest of the TV-news industry could tell him, change
isn't always good.

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