The well-publicized departures of anchors Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw have turned into non-events for L.A. news executives, another sign that the days when network news influenced local TV ratings are pretty much over.
"Local stations succeed or fail on the strength of their local news, not on the strength of the (network) anchor chair, thank God," said Fred Young, senior vice president of news for New York-based Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., which owns 25 television stations.
Rather's departure next month as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" comes amid continued weak ratings for the KCBS (Channel 2) newscasts. The 6 p.m. "CBS 2 News" has a 3.67 percent average share of household viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research ratings data for the last three months. That trails KABC (Channel 7), which has an average 11 percent share, and KNBC (Channel 4), with an average 7.67 percent share.
CBS has named veteran Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer interim anchor of the news broadcasts, as network officials continue to deliberate on a permanent successor to Rather. Schieffer is expected to fill in for several months.
KCBS spokesman Mike Nelson declined to comment on the influence of network news on ratings. On Rather's permanent replacement, he said, "Since the network hasn't made a decision or made plans, I don't know if there is anything we can say."
But privately, local news executives downplay the significance of the changes. At NBC, the shift from Brokaw to Brian Williams hasn't resulted in any sharp ratings slippage. Last November, before Brokaw left, the network news had garnered an 8 percent share of local household viewership. In January, after Brokaw left, it had a 7 percent share.
For the last three months, "CBS Evening News'" held an average share of local household viewership of 4 percent, compared with 10.3 percent for "ABC World News Tonight" and 7.7 percent for "NBC Nightly News."
As ratings generators, programs that precede a newscast are typically valued over the ones that follow. In Los Angeles, that makes the impact of network news secondary to that of afternoon showings of "Dr. Phil" on KNBC, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on KABC and "Judge Judy" on KCBS.
Unlike with Rather, whose departure was likely sparked by the mishandling of a "60 Minutes" report on President Bush's National Guard service, NBC viewers were given notice well in advance of the anchor change. KNBC executives declined to comment on what the anchor change means for ratings.
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