CBS names news chief Promoted: Andrew Heyward moves from nightly broadcast to top post in department.

January 09, 1996|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Andrew Heyward was named president of the struggling CBS News division yesterday, succeeding Eric Ober who was fired last month.

Heyward, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" for the last two years, had been expected to get the job based on a track record showing both the ability to seize opportunities in a changing television universe and a keen sense of the bottom line.

"Andrew is the quintessential news professional with wide-ranging vision and experience as a producer in all aspects of news," said Peter Lund, president of CBS, Inc. "He has distinguished himself in both hard news and the magazine format . . . and is an innovator who has explored new genres in the medium and made them a success."

In a phone interview yesterday, Heyward said, "We have a very solid base of reporters and producers here. Our coverage is second to none. The job is to find a way to make CBS News as important as it ought to be in American journalism, and that means not just competitively but in the kind of programs we do."

Ober had been news president for five years under former CBS Chairman Laurence Tisch. CBS itself faces life under its new owner, Westinghouse Electric Corp., which last year moved to acquire the network for $5.4 billion.

Heyward, 45, a Harvard honors graduate in history, was one of the first in the industry to understand the incredible profit potential of prime-time newsmagazines when he helped launch "48 Hours" in 1987.

Even though "48 Hours" got clobbered in the ratings by "The Cosby Show," it still made money because it cost so much less to produce than an an hour of entertainment programming.

Within a year, Heyward's "48 Hours" was contributing $10 million to CBS' bottom line -- a key factor in turning the news division from a money loser into a profit center.

Heyward left "48 Hours" in 1993 to take over "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung." In 1994, he was promoted to vice president of CBS News and took over "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" as executive producer. He has been with CBS News for 20 years and has won 11 national Emmys.

"I hope and believe Andrew Heyward will be my last president at CBS News," Rather said yesterday. "I worked closely with him practically from the moment he walked in here. This succession is logical and right, and it's welcome."

Heyward takes over a news division with major morale and ratings problems. "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" is in third place among the three network newscasts. "CBS This Morning" is such a ratings loser that some affiliate stations pre-empt it in favor of syndicated fare or locally-produced morning shows.

Worse, the venerable "60 Minutes" is down 20 percent in ratings from a year ago, while NBC's "Dateline" and ABC's "20/20" are up 33 and 30 percent, respectively. The ratings for "48 Hours" are also down from a year ago.

"There is no quick fix. There is no easy, magic formula," Heyward said.

"Everything is going to be done toward the goal of making this place what it ought to be, which is a very important journalistic institution that people feel makes a difference in their lives."

In addition to ratings woes, Heyward will have to play catch up with ABC News and NBC News in terms of new formats and news venues for news.

One of the main reasons for Ober's dismissal was that he failed to come up with anything comparable to the 24-hour cable news channels that ABC and NBC News announced in December.

"We are going to be looking to expand the news business," Heyward said. "I think we want to expand into prime time with either a new series or more occasional specials.

"We are going to look into cable, too -- not on a me-too basis, but to see if there's a distinctive service that we can provide. I don't know if it will be 24-hour, but we certainly want to be into cable. We're even going to look into new media for down the road. I think that's something that's going to eventually be very important."

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