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CBS replacing evening news producer

March 08, 2007|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — In its first acknowledgment that the expensive gamble on Katie Couric has not yet paid off, CBS removed the executive producer of "CBS Evening News" late Wednesday, six months after the newscaster joined the program as its anchor, according to people familiar with the situation.

Rome Hartman, a longtime "60 Minutes" producer who has run the evening newscast since November 2005, is expected to be replaced by Rick Kaplan, a veteran news executive who has served as president of CNN and MSNBC. An announcement of the move could come this morning.

A CBS spokeswoman declined to comment.

The change in leadership comes after months in which CBS executives have professed to be confident in the direction of the broadcast, which has lagged far behind the nightly news programs on rivals NBC and ABC after the initial ratings surge that accompanied Couric's arrival.

CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves wooed Couric for a year before striking a deal last April with the star of NBC's morning program, "Today," hoping she could help reinvent a genre on the wane. Under her five-year contract, Couric earns about $15 million annually, making her among the highest-paid anchors.

Yet this season, "CBS Evening News" has hovered at about 7 million viewers, 100,000 fewer than were watching at the same time last year when the program was anchored by Bob Schieffer.

Meanwhile, ABC's "World News" has been pulling farther ahead of CBS and is now challenging "NBC Nightly News" for the top spot.

Last week, Sean McManus, president of the news division, said that although he was unhappy being in third place, he was sure the broadcast would gain audience over time.

"We don't like being No. 3 at all, but I still firmly believe if we keep putting on a better and better show, we're going to see some growth in the ratings," McManus said in an interview, noting that it took more than a decade for Tom Brokaw to ascend to the top spot.

"I'm very patient, Katie's patient, my boss is patient."

But network sources familiar with the internal discussions said the mood was grim because the program had failed to attract the new viewers CBS officials hoped would tune in to watch the first solo female anchor of a network evening newscast.

The change in producers is aimed at bringing in someone with a fresh eye who can make the program more competitive, sources said. Kaplan is a longtime producer who ran a host of programs at ABC, including its evening newscast.

"It hasn't worked ratings-wise as well as I would like," Moonves said Monday during a Bear Stearns media conference in Palm Beach, Fla.

"We think the show's in good shape. We hope the ratings continue to improve. But it's a tough road."

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matea.gold@latimes.com

Times staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.

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