By now, everyone who’s familiar with the CBS Evening News is well versed in Rathergate. Unfortunately, since CBS regularly finishes a distant third behind NBC’s Nightly News and ABC’s World News Tonight, “everyone” is really nobody when it comes to caring about who Dan Rather’s eventual replacement (or replacements) will be.
So, when CBS chairman Les Moonves spoke publicly for the first time last week about his future plans for the Evening News, one particular possibility stood out as an ideal option: Jon Stewart.
You see, Moonves isn’t only chairman of CBS; he’s co-chair of Viacom, which owns such cable stations as MTV, VH-1 and, you guessed it, Comedy Central. Furthermore, the sharing of talent between Viacom’s channels isn’t uncharted territory: Ben Stein, for example, may best be known for his Comedy Central game show, but thanks to his political know-how (he was, after all, a big part of the Nixon brain trust), he offers financial advice on a weekly basis on CBS’ Sunday Morning.
So the idea of using Stewart, if only as a correspondent, is not entirely out of the question in Moonves’ eyes. But my question is, why doesn’t Moonves take it a step further?
Using negative descriptions of the current evening news format such as “antiquated” to explain “the voice of God” (in referring to a single-anchor serious) format, Moonves pointed to revolutionizing the news to make it “something that younger people can relate to.”
And what better way to make the evening news relevant to America’s youth than by handing the reigns over to Stewart? Rolling Stone recently featured him on its cover as “The Most Trusted Man in News,” The Daily Show rakes in Emmys every twelve months like it’s Christmas, America (the book) is topping bestseller lists nationwide, and the show’s equal opportunity lampooning is a far cry from a fabricated document about W’s military service used to give someone a connection to the Democratic National Committee.
Sure, news purists may sit with mouths agape at this suggestion, but they can always tune in to ABC’s Peter Jennings or NBC’s up-and-comer Brian Williams. For CBS to make any kind of dent in the Nielsen ratings, though, a drastic change is necessary-one that John Roberts or Scott Pelley just cannot provide (does anybody know who John Roberts or Scott Pelley are, anyway?)
The biggest obstacle would be to find a way to get The Daily Show itself to switch from cable to network, but the concept of airing live in the Evening News’ old time-slot and then re-airing on Comedy Central at 11 p.m. isn’t entirely out of the question.
Of course, a humor format may seem like a giant step backwards, but if you know anyone who doesn’t like a good laugh at the end of the day, well, that’s news to me.
Ben Minkus can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.