The 10 Biggest TV News Stories of 2013

By Gail Shister 

How to describe a year in which TV news had more turnovers than Pepperidge Farm? Business as usual.

The dramatic departures and arrivals of A-List talent weren’t the only big story of 2013, of course. Two new networks launched. Fox News made some major changes in its prime-time lineup. Serious health issues affected at least three anchors. And CBS’s venerable ‘Sunday Morning’ continued to kick ass on the Sabbath.


Herewith my choices for TV news’ Top 10, in no particular order:

Open mouth, insert foot.

Hosts Martin Bashir and Alec Baldwin both left MSNBC after making what could charitably be called offensive comments.

On his November 15 broadcast, Bashir suggested that someone should defecate in the mouth of ex-vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin because of remarks she had made about slavery. Instead, it was Bashir who was forced to eat doo-doo. He resigned Dec. 4.

Actor-activist Baldwin hit the bricks Nov. 26, two weeks after he was caught on video calling a paparazzi a ‘cocksucking fag.’ His weekly show, ‘Up Late,’ lasted exactly five episodes. Maybe replacing ‘Lockup’ was bad karma.

Lara’s theme.

Ace ’60 Minutes’ correspondent Lara Logan was forced to take a leave of absence after her October 27 piece on the Benghazi attack was discredited. Politico says she’ll return early next month. CBS isn’t talking.

A CBS internal inquiry labeled Logan’s report ‘deficient in several respects.’ Among them: Over a full year’s reporting, she and her team somehow missed the fact that her major source, security contractor Dylan Davies, was a liar. Oops.

In a dubious distinction, Logan’s story led to ‘60’ winning Poynter’s Error of the Year award. If you call that winning.

A pair of newbies.

While other networks endured layoffs, two new cable channels debuted — Al Jazeera America on August 20 and Fusion on October 28.

AJA hired hundreds of journalists and staff – including many from U.S. networks. Among them: CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi, its first big-name hire; CNN International’s Joie Chen; MSNBC exile David Shuster and NBC’s John Seigenthaler.

AJA, whose corporate parent is based in Qatar, boasts 12 domestic bureaus and three broadcast centers. It reaches about 48 million homes.

Fusion, a joint production of Disney-ABC and Univision, features news and pop-culture fare targeted at English-speaking millenials. Based outside of Miami, it represents Univision’s first major foray into English-language programming.

Would you like your anchors scrambled or poached?

In a stunning move, Fox News chief Roger Ailes lured CNBC star Maria Bartiromo – his former protégée — to Fox Business in late November. Bartiromo, a CNBC anchor since 1993, is expected to host her own live Sunday show.

Popular ‘Good Morning America’ weatherguy Sam Champion left the top-rated morning show Dec. 4 to become the face of The Weather Channel, as well as its managing editor. He’ll host a weekday morning program beginning in spring.

CNN czar Jeff Zucker brought over Jake Tapper and Chris Cuomo from ABC in January and February, respectively. Tapper got his own weekday show, ‘The Lead,’ and Cuomo a co-anchor slot on ‘New Day,’ CNN’s revamped morning broadcast.

New York Timesman Brian Stelter ditched the Old Gray Lady to join CNN Nov. 12 as senior media correspondent and host of ‘Reliable Sources.’ He debuted Dec. 8. Six months earlier, Stelter’s predecessor, Howard Kurtz, had joined Fox News to host its competing show, ‘Media Buzz.’ He debuted Sept. 8.

He’s b-a-a-a-c-k.

Keith Olbermann, who has a habit of napalming villages instead of burning bridges, returned to ESPN on Aug. 26 to host a late-night show on ESPN2. His 1992-97 tenure at the sports network ended in fireworks, as did subsequent gigs at Fox Sports Net, MSNBC (twice), and most recently, Current.

In a master stroke, Olbermann began his ESPN2 premiere with: “As I was saying.” Party on, Keith.

Couric goes digital.

After three broadcast networks and syndication, Katie Couric’s next frontier will be the web. With her daytime talk show faltering, she signed with Yahoo in late November to be its ‘global anchor.’

As the face of Yahoo News, Couric is expected to host a news-driven interview program on the site’s homepage beginning early next year. Production on the second – and final – season of ‘Katie’ will run through June.

Couric is no stranger to Yahoo, BTW. Her web show, ‘Katie’s Take,’ appears on both and Yahoo as part of a news partnership that began in 2011.

Big lineup changes at Fox News.

After months of speculation, Fox News reformatted its prime time lineup as of Oct. 7. Weekday host Megyn Kelly took over the 9 p.m. slot formerly occupied by Sean Hannity, who moved to 10. That bumped Greta Van Susteren to 7, making Shepard Smith odd man out. He was named anchor of breaking news. Bill O’Reilly stayed put at 8.

Morning medical dramas.

‘Good Morning America’ co-anchor Robin Roberts returned to work on Feb. 20, five months to the day after undergoing a bone marrow transplant due to a rare blood disorder.

Nine months later, ‘GMA’ colleague Amy Robach was diagnosed with breast cancer following an on-air mammogram for a ‘GMA’ segment on Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She underwent a double mastectomy.

Zoraida Sambolin, anchor of CNN’s ‘Early Start,’ also had a double mastectomy, in May, due to breast cancer. She left CNN on Dec. 13 to return to Chicago, where she previously was a local morning anchor.

Cable nets down.

Given that 2012 was an election year, cable news viewership dropped significantly in ’13, especially in prime time. Season to date, No. 1 Fox News averaged 1.75 million overall viewers (down 13 percent from a year ago), followed by MSNBC with 645,000 (down 29 percent) and CNN with 578,000 (down 15 percent).

It was good year for HLN, however. With 403,000 overall viewers, it was up 21 percent from ’12.

Cause it’s easy, easy like ‘Sunday Morning.’

‘CBS Sunday Morning,’ which long ago mastered the art of being heard without raising its voice, continued its quiet ratings juggernaut in 2013. Charles Osgood rules.

‘Sunday Morning’ did boffo box office in last month’s sweeps, posting its best November numbers in overall viewership since the advent of people meters in 1987 and its best in the demo (adults 25-54) since ‘09. In terms of raw numbers, ’Sunday Morning’s’ 6.0 million average viewership was up 12 percent over November ’12.

Season to date, ‘Sunday Morning’ averaged 5.8 million overall viewers, a seven percent increase over 2012, according to the most recent Nielsens.