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Dan, Connie Debut, but Peter's No. 1

June 03, 1993|RICK DU BROW | TIMES TELEVISION WRITER

Despite a big buildup, the debut of CBS' new anchor team of Dan Rather and Connie Chung finished second to nightly news leader Peter Jennings of ABC in overnight ratings for 29 major TV markets, the A.C. Nielsen research firm said Wednesday.

Rather and Chung, formerly an anchor here, gave the "CBS Evening News" a significant ratings jump in Los Angeles in their Tuesday night premiere, but the highly publicized team finished last behind both ABC and NBC in two other important markets, New York and Chicago.

National ratings, in which CBS generally does better because of its broad-based appeal, are yet to come. But in the major markets, Jennings remained well ahead, averaging a 10.2 rating and 20% of the audience compared to CBS' 8.7 and 17% of viewers.

NBC, which had its nightly news pre-empted by several key stations in the West because of a basketball playoff game between Phoenix and Seattle, was last with a 6.9 and 14% audience share.

Chung was teamed with Rather to boost the national ratings of the "CBS Evening News," which is in second place behind Jennings this season and fell into the cellar last week.

The big push for Rather and Chung netted a modest gain for Tuesday's premiere in the 29 markets that get overnight ratings. CBS said the ratings were up 6% over the four previous Tuesdays and that the news broadcast attracted 1% more of the audience.

Although the increase was hardly dramatic, CBS News spokesman Tom Goodman said, "It was a good start. They (Rather and Chung) got along just the way we thought they would. They've known each other 22 years."

The team, which did little more on the debut than read the news--although Rather conducted a brief interview with a political expert--drew higher ratings than usual for CBS in Los Angeles as curious viewers tuned in.

In head-on competition with ABC in Los Angeles, Rather and Chung were a close second in the Nielsens. ABC led with a 7.6 rating and 14% of the audience, while CBS had a 7.4 and 13%. In another ratings survey, by Arbitron, Rather and Chung finished first, topping ABC by half a point.

New York and Chicago, however, showed relatively little interest by comparison in the teaming of Rather and Chung. In New York, ABC walloped CBS with an 8.9 rating and 18 share while Rather and Chung earned only a 5.4 and 11. In Chicago, ABC also won by a huge margin with an 11.1 rating and 24% of viewers compared to CBS' 6.1 and 13%.

Rather and Chung, the first male-female nightly network anchor team since Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters in the 1970s, are part of the plans of prime-time leader CBS to shore up the program areas in which it trails. Chung, a news veteran, has also had a high popularity rating with viewers.

One researcher said, "CBS skews old and it hopes that Chung can bring in younger viewers and particularly younger female viewers. A lot of women feel that such a teaming is long overdue."

The "CBS Evening News" was set up in Los Angeles Tuesday by a KCBS-TV Channel 2 feature plugging the Rather-Chung launching and leading into it.

At the start of the program, Rather welcomed Chung to the broadcast, and she thanked him. From there on, until the end, it was a formal, straight-foward newscast. But at the end, the two attempted to mark the occasion with a bit of humor by using the closing of the most famous anchor team in TV history, NBC's Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

"Good night, Chet," said Chung. "Good night, David," replied Rather.

Throughout the newscast, the sometimes tense manner of Rather made him seem a bit jittery compared to Chung. CBS has maintained that the addition of Chung to the newscast will allow Rather to report more from the field. He took over the anchor role from Walter Cronkite 12 years ago.

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