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Cbs News Gets Its 3rd Prime Time Slot For '48 Hours' Series

October 17, 1987|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — In another move that will give CBS News both more air time and more employees, CBS on Friday said a new, hourlong news series, "48 Hours," anchored by Dan Rather, will air in prime time "early next year."

CBS President Laurence A. Tisch termed the program unique, predicted that it will get at least a year's run and added: "I hope it's permanent."

He also gave a vote of confidence to Rather, anchor of the "CBS Evening News," and said Rather is not going to be replaced from the job he has held since succeeding Walter Cronkite in March, 1981.

Tisch, in a phone interview, made clear that he disagreed with Cronkite, who in a student newspaper interview this week said that, had he been in charge of CBS, he would have fired Rather for a much-publicized Sept. 11 incident in which the anchorman's absence from the set forced the network to go black for six minutes.

"The answer on that particular point is that we're diametrically opposed," Tisch said, referring to Cronkite, who, like Tisch, is a member of CBS' corporate board of directors. "Go by what I do, not by what I say."

Cronkite, who later tempered his remarks, referred to the blackout that hit CBS after Rather left his anchor chair to complain to CBS officials about a tennis telecast that had delayed the start of his newscast. As soon as the tennis program ended, CBS switched to the "Evening News" but had to go to black because the anchor was not there. Rather has said the incident was an accident.

Tisch said he's read published speculation that Rather may be replaced as the "Evening News" anchor. "There never was one scintilla of truth to any of the stuff that was printed," he said.

The new series that Rather will anchor is patterned on last year's highly rated "48 Hours on Crack Street" special and similar "instant" specials this year. It may premiere in January as a midseason replacement.

Each week's program will look at various aspects of a single subject over a 48-hour period--the subjects to include domestic politics, education, world conflicts and the military, CBS said.

The announcement of the new program was the second round of good news in recent weeks at CBS News, where morale plummeted in March after a $30-million budget cut ordered by Tisch resulted in 215 job losses.

Earlier this month, the news division was given responsibility again for the important 7-9 a.m. weekday time period and was told to create a new broadcast for that slot by Nov. 30.

The new program, for which Kathleen Sullivan already has been hired as a co-anchor, will succeed the flop "The Morning Program" that stars Marriette Hartley and Rolland Smith and premiered only last January.

CBS News insiders say nearly 50 staffers are being hired for the new morning effort, and CBS News President Howard Stringer estimated Friday that between 30 and 40 others will be needed for "48 Hours."

Tisch conceded that the news division's payroll will go up, but defended his earlier cuts by saying "if you have surplus and inefficiency, you do what's best to run your company."

Now, he said, the news division is expanding to meet a need: "Of course. We want to run the best news division in the business. We've always had that desire. Nothing has changed. And if we needed 200 people to do this, we would bring in the 200 best people we could find."

CBS' newest program will give the company three prime-time hours a week devoted to news, the highest of any network. It already has the successful "60 Minutes" on Sundays and the still-struggling "West 57th" on Saturdays.

ABC News, whose low-rated "Our World" was axed last May, only is regularly represented in prime time by "20/20." NBC News has no prime-time series; its low-rated "1986" got the ax last December.

CBS News next year may get a fourth prime-time series on the schedule, a half-hour venture called "Try to Remember," anchored by Charles Kuralt.

Tisch, who saw the program's pilot three weeks ago, called it "a beautiful show" that "I'm looking forward to seeing on the schedule some day," whether in January or later in 1988.

He was asked if CBS Entertainment President B. Donald (Bud) Grant had resisted the impending arrival of a third news program in prime time. Such programs traditionally get lower ratings than entertainment fare, with "60 Minutes" a notable exception in the last 10 years.

"Bud is a very intelligent fellow," Tisch said, "and he recognizes that what we're trying to do here is to elevate the network, to be the premiere network in the business.

"And you have to perhaps give up a ratings point once in a while to put on programming that is right for the network," he said, adding: "To me, ratings are not the issue. Quality is the issue."

He said that congressional hearings last spring on matters of network program quality and public service played no part in his decision to give the green light to another prime-time news series.

"No, no, not at all," said Tisch, who, with the heads of rival networks ABC and NBC, testified at hearings by the House subcommittee on telecommunications.

"Let me tell you, I thought of quality and public service long before we had these hearings," he said. "That's why I'm at CBS today."

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