ABC, CBS and NBC all air their evening newscasts at the same time – when many of us are eating dinner or driving home. Would it make sense for one of the networks to move its evening newscast into prime time? Media commentator Paul Janensch thinks it would.
On Wednesday, January 28, CBS aired an edition of the “Evening News with Katie Couric” at 8 p.m.. It did not beat the Fox juggernaut “American Idol.” But it did finish second. The 8 p.m. edition was an updated version of the newscast earlier that evening. It also included a special report on domestic violence committed by servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. CBS insists the 8 p.m. edition was just a way to introduce the program to new viewers. It says it has no intention of moving the evening news from its current slot.
I can understand the network’s reluctance to play around with its prime time schedule – which is number-one this season. But I think it’s weird that ABC, CBS and NBC don’t give us a choice. Their evening newscasts are on at the same time. The formats are almost identical. Even the commercials come on at the same time and push the same health products – mostly for older people, who constitute a large part of a national newscast’s audience. Yes, the programs have different anchors. But are they really THAT different -- beyond the fact that one is a woman?
When it comes to newscasts, the networks seem to have forgotten about counter-programming. Which is putting on something that’s different from what your competitors are putting on at that time in hopes of beating at least one of them. I bet that a carefully produced prime time news program could be a success. I would put it on at 8 p.m. or even at 10 p.m., the time slot that NBC plans on giving to Jay Leno.
I would make it an hour program – with the latest developments at the beginning followed by reports that are in depth. Does that sound like the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS? Yes, sort of, except with much more action, live or on video clips, and not so much talk by experts. The Lehrer show is actually a radio program with short video reports, often from an outside provider. The production values for the regular newscasts on the commercial networks are much higher. With the one-hour format, my prime time newscast could include more business news – beyond the stock market averages – and more sports – beyond the Super Bowl and the World Series. Hey, ABC, CBS or NBC, why not give this a try? I’m sure prime time news would attract more viewers under 60.
Media commentator Paul Janensch is a former newspaper editor who teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.