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CBS Evening News
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CBS Evening News

The CBS Evening News is the flagship nightly television news program of the American television network CBS.

Early history

It originally competed against the Camel News Caravan on NBC, and was anchored by Douglas Edwards. Edwards attracted more viewers during the mid-1950s, but lost ground when Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were teamed up by NBC on the Huntley-Brinkley Report.

Cronkite years

Walter Cronkite gained the anchor chair in 1962 and on September 2, 1963, CBS Evening News became network television's first half-hour weeknight news broadcast, the show was lengthened from 15 to 30 minutes. During most of the 1960s, the CBS Evening News lagged behind the Huntley-Brinkley Report in terms of viewership levels. The beginnings of corporate ossification at RCA, the parent company of NBC, set in and Cronkite helped guide the broadcast to ratings wins in the summers of 1968 and 1969. In 1970, upon Huntley's retirement, the CBS Evening News began a period of domination in terms of viewership unmatched in American television. In the process, Walter Cronkite became an American icon.

A Rather New Beginning

Dan Rather took over the program in 1981. Within months, the program skidded to third in the viewership race, behind ABC World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News. CBS poured resources into CBS Evening News and pushed the show back into first place in the viewership battle for a few years under the leadership of CBS News president Van Gordon Sauter.

Ratings slump

The program's fortunes fell, however, after Sauter ran afoul of his Rather and others within CBS News who perceived him as being too low-market. Sauter was forced out and soon thereafter, the ratings of the Evening News began a decline from which they have never recovered.

Theories abound concerning the loss of viewers from CBS Evening News. One theory is decreasing viewer interest in evening news programs with the ascent of alternative media such as cable news, talk radio, and the Internet. Others believe Rather's viewership has declined because he has not allowed the Evening News to change with the times. Still others attribute the drop to the ouster of Sauter. With the departure of Sauter, the theory goes, Rather and others had no one to check their liberal impulses and as a result, injected them too often into broadcasts, offending conservative viewers in the process. Yet another theory holds the ratings declined after corporate takeover baron president Larry Tisch purchased CBS in the late 1980s and gutted the news division, hampering its ability to cover news well.

CBS has made several attempts to boost the show out of third place including the hiring of Connie Chung as a co-anchor with Rather. For time, it tried to attract younger viewers by running jokes from late-night comedy shows. The network has also attempted to make partnerships with cable news channel CNN to exchange content and correspondents.

The future

As of early 2003, the show still trails its rivals at ABC and NBC by a fairly large margin. John Roberts, currently a White House correspondent for the network and Scott Pelley, his predecessor in that position, are often mentioned as possible successors to Rather when he retires.

There some talk within CBS, however, that the Evening News may die with Rather's retirement. Many of the network's affiliates have long wanted to have its timeslot for local programming and others within the news business such as 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt believe that nightly national news shows are outmoded in the age of the Internet.

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