Cable News Young Gun Gets Shot at Tiffany Network

By Gail Shister Comment

CBS News’ brand-new management team doesn’t officially take over until tomorrow, but it’s already earning high marks from former division president Andrew Heyward.

“It’s a really creative, innovative way to structure top management,” says Heyward, a consultant to media companies. “I give Leslie [Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp.] a lot of credit for this.”

“This” is the unusual tandem of Bloomberg alum David Rhodes as CBS News president and ’60 Minutes’ executive producer Jeff Fager as chairman, a new title. In addition to topping the division’s flow chart, Fager will continue running ’60.’

Rhodes is a young (37) CBS outsider whose entire career has been in cable. Fager, 56, has spent more than half his life at CBS, where he is universally respected as a  newsman and manager.

Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington bureau chief, labels the professional coupling  “a dream team.”

“The boss understands the heritage, preserves the legacy, articulates the vision,” says Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. “The president brings in new blood, a new sensibility and a cable edge.”

The duo, announced Feb. 7, made its first major move Friday with the exit of Paul Friedman, executive vice president for news, and Barbara Fedida, head of talent and development.  Neither departure was unexpected.

Friedman, in particular, was strongly disliked by the troops for his brusque management

style, according to newsroom sources.  One CBS wag described him as “Darth Vader, without the charm.”

With Rhodes a virtual unknown, Fager’s appointment has both calmed and energized the troops, CBS sources say. Had Rhodes alone been appointed, “people here would have freaked out,” says one veteran correspondent, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In Heyward’s view, Fager “has never compromised his journalistic integrity for any commercial consideration. At the same time, he’s also had business success.”  Rhodes “comes in with a fresh perspective, which the organization needs.”

Not everyone is smitten by the new team. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, says CBS is “hedging its bets” by promoting Fager.

“They bring in a young guy from cable, but they don’t let him take over. They put him under the wing of somebody who’s been there,” Lichter says. “I don’t think you do that if you want to shake things up. You shake things up from the top.”

It’s not great p.r., Lichter says, “but CBS is at the point where p.r. doesn’t matter much anymore.”

Check the news numbers. While Fager’s show carries the freight, Katie Couric’s ‘CBS Evening News’ and the revamped (again) ‘Early Show’ are Crazy-Glued in third place.

Buzz in the shop is that Couric, whose contract is up in May, was kept out of the loop about Rhodes; and that ‘Early Show’ e.p. David Friedman (son of Paul Friedman) has already been ordered to add more hard news to his broadcast.

“It’s a new world. This just in,” says GW’s Sesno with a chuckle. “The Tiffany network  has not-so-slowly been giving way to Costco.

“There’s an app for that. I hope CBS finds it.”