Keep eye on 'Eye' to divine the fate of Chung, Rather

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Don't look for CBS to make any changes to the Dan Rather-Connie Chung news anchor team before the network's affiliate meeting next month.

Sources at the network said despite the sagging ratings -- mostly because of a weaker affiliate station lineup -- and mounds of press criticizing the "CBS Evening News" team, there are no immediate plans to break it up. A spokeswoman for CBS News had no comment on reports that "60 Minutes" anchor Ed Bradley was a possible replacement for the anchors. A news division source said such a move was unlikely.

"I don't think any conclusion has been reached," said another industry source close to the situation.

Speculation on the future of the Rather-Chung pairing has heightened since Ms. Chung was chosen to cover the Oklahoma City bombing. Mr. Rather, who usually anchors from the field on breaking stories, was on vacation but willing to travel to the bombing site. He was upset he did not get the go-ahead.

While the affiliates are likely to have their say on the "CBS Evening News" -- they were highly critical of Ms. Chung's controversial interview with House Speaker Newt Gingrich's mother in January -- the network's other problems may overshadow those of the newscast.

There is speculation inside and outside the network that says the future of newsmagazine "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung" could offer a clue as to what CBS will do.

If the network keeps "Eye to Eye," it offers a graceful way for the network to take Ms. Chung off the "CBS Evening News." One network news executive said CBS could say she needs to devote a full-time effort to the newsmagazine.

While "Eye to Eye" has not been a strong performer in the ratings -- it narrowly escaped the ax in January -- the program makes money for CBS. With so many hours to fill on the struggling CBS primetime schedule, there is a real chance "Eye to Eye" can return, network sources said.

If "Eye to Eye" doesn't make the cut when the fall schedule is announced -- leaving Ms. Chung with the "CBS Evening News" as her only regular broadcast -- CBS News executives may express their commitment to the Rather-Chung team.

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