In less than a month, Norah O’Donnell will start delivering the headlines at “CBS Evening News” – and, most likely, start generating a few of her own.
CBS News plans to launch a re-tooled “CBS Evening News” anchored by O’Donnell on July 15th, part of the network’s ambitious plans to overhaul its morning and evening standbys and get more competitive with rivals. She will be just the second woman at CBS News to lead the venerable program solo and will play an instrumental role in a big bet by the network, which plans to move O’Donnell and the program to Washington, D.C. from New York City at some point in the fall.
The network offered a peek at how it will position O’Donnell’s tenure behind the evening-news desk Sunday evening with a promo that aired during “60 Minutes.”
O’Donnell “has traveled the world reporting the most important stories of our time and has covered the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill,” said Susan Zirinsky, CBS News’ president and senior executive producer, in a prepared statement. “She is an exceptional and experienced journalist who cares deeply about the issues that affect American families. Norah is the right person at the right time.”
O’Donnell will shoulder a burden carried by several of her predecessors. Despite the program’s vaunted history – it has been anchored over the decades by some of the industry’s most notable personae, ranging from Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather to Katie Couric – the show has been mired in third place for years, well behind ABC’s leading “World News Tonight” and NBC’s “NBC Nightly News.”
For the five days between June 10 and June 14, ABC’s “World News” captured an average of more than 1.46 million viewers between 25 and 54 – the demographic most coveted by advertisers in news programming. “NBC Nightly News” lured an average of nearly 1.43 million, while “CBS Evening News” attracted an average of 987,000. The CBS evening newscast has been led by fill-in anchors since Jeff Glor, the program’s previous anchor, signed off in May. The CBS evening program also lags its rivals in terms of overall audience. In the same time period, “CBS Evening News” captured an average of 5.16 million viewers, compared with nearly 6.88 million for “NBC Nightly News” and 7.73 million for “World News.”
CBS News executives expect the move to the nation’s capital approximately a year before the 2020 presidential election to lend the program new gravitas and relevance. The program “will embody urgency, truth and original reporting,” said Kim Godwin, executive vice president of news at CBS News, in a statement. She will serve executive-in-charge/executive producer for the broadcast while it is based in New York.
Being in place in the nation’s capital will give CBS News the chance to help explain the factors that drive many of the most important national issues of the day, O’Donnell told Variety in May. “That’s where everything from the Korea trade deal to the prices for milk farmers in Iowa gets decided,” she explained at the time, adding: “We are going to turn on the engines” behind the network’s newsgathering efforts.
She has vast experience as a national correspondent across two different networks, serving as a correspondent covering the White House and Congress for NBC News and as CBS’ News chief White House correspondent. She joined “CBS This Morning” in 2012, helping to spur a new and more competitive era in morning programming at the network, which has over the years struggled to launch a rival distinctive from NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
O’Donnell has not been sitting idle since she left “CBS This Morning” to prepare for her new role. She has landed interviews with Apple CEO Tim Cook and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in recent weeks, and her reports were distributed across multiple CBS News programs. She has also spent time visiting local TV stations that will help generate audiences for the revamped “Evening News,” including Boston’s WBZ, a CBS-owned outlet, and Washington D.C.’s WUSA, owned by Tenga Inc.
CBS News will also stream its new “CBS Evening News” at 10 p.m. eastern each weeknight on CBSN, its streaming-video outlet.
O’Donnell will also serve as managing editor of “CBS Evening News” and will be CBS’ lead anchor for political coverage of the primaries and election nights. She will continue as a contributing correspondent for “60 Minutes.”