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Stringer Moves Up at CBS; ABC Man Picked for News Spot

July 14, 1988|PAUL RICHTER | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — CBS on Wednesday shuffled its top executives to put news division president Howard Stringer in charge of entertainment, news and other broadcast operations, and filled his job with David W. Burke, who had been the No. 2 executive at ABC News.

Gene F. Jankowski, whose current job as president of the CBS Broadcast Group will be filled by Stringer, will move upstairs to become the group's chairman, a new post, officials announced at a news conference here. But sources close to the company said Jankowski will probably remain only for a transitional period, and made clear that the most important job at the division will be Stringer's, who will report directly to Chief Executive Officer Laurence A. Tisch.

The moves mark the most important rearrangement of the executive suite since Tisch took over at CBS in September, 1986, and raised eyebrows among some CBS journalists and Wall Street analysts. The analysts pointed out that Stringer has had no direct experience in entertainment programming, while the journalists questioned whether the once-supreme broadcast news operation needed to pick a president for the first time from outside its ranks.

Tisch strongly defended the choices, describing Stringer as "one of the most knowledgeable people in programming." Tisch said that Jankowski, who has filled the job for 11 years, came to him last week to propose a change in command, and had independently concluded that Stringer would be the best choice to succeed him.

Asked why CBS had gone outside to fill the news job, Tisch said that the next highest ranking CBS News officials were "new in their jobs." "We will develop the people, and we hope CBS never again has to go to outsiders" to fill such a position, he said.

Stringer, a native of Wales and a 23-year CBS news veteran, has won Tisch's confidence in the past two years as he headed the news division during a stormy period in which it cut staff sharply and struggled to maintain the ratings lead of its centerpiece evening news program.

The new appointment, which becomes effective Aug. 1, was hinted last spring, when Stringer attended CBS' meetings in Los Angeles to set the fall prime-time schedule--much to the surprise of some CBS programming executives.

Stringer's appointment may raise questions within CBS about whether the cost-conscious Tisch hopes to use less expensive programming from the news division to fill out its programming lineup, former CBS executives said. There have been rumors that CBS might, for example, try to recycle some old news footage or documentaries this fall to fill in gaps left by the writers' strike.

But Stringer declined to spell out any specific plans for programing at the network. "We'll just be seeking quality programming," he said.

Although he has no entertainment programming experience, Stringer has been behind the creation of such news series as "West 57th" and, more recently, "48 Hours." Stringer was executive vice president of the news division between January, 1984, and October, 1986, and was executive producer of the "CBS Evening News" between 1981 and 1984.

Insiders say he already has contacts among entertainment industry officials in Los Angeles, and described him as somebody with the "people skills" to get along with sometimes-unruly news division employees and the CBS affiliate stations.

A former CBS executive said the appointments were a sign that "Larry Tisch isn't afraid to rattle the cages over there."

Burke has been executive vice president of ABC News since May, 1986, and joined the network's news operation in August, 1977. He earlier held a series of government jobs, including chief of staff to New York Gov. Hugh T. Carey in the 1970s, and, earlier, aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Burke has been second in command to ABC News President Roone Arledge, but has on many occasions taken charge of the news division when Arledge was off on other projects. Arledge on Wednesday called Burke a "good man . . . and an indispensable factor in the growth of ABC News."

Stringer will take over at a tense moment for CBS. The network finished third in the prime-time ratings last season for the first time and may have more trouble than its two rivals filling fall programming gaps caused by the writers' strike.

"No question, they'll have it tougher than the other two," said Dennis McAlpine, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., a Wall Street investment bank.

At the same time, CBS' financial picture has been slightly stronger than many on Wall Street had expected. The so-called upfront advertising season, when advertisers buy advance commercial time for the upcoming year, looks stronger than many had expected.

And Wednesday, CBS reported sharply increased earnings, partly due to stronger-than-expected ad sales and the effects of Tisch's continuing cost-cutting program. Profits for the quarter from continuing operations were up 77% from the comparable quarter of 1987.

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