Walter Cronkite, the most widely known and respected anchorman in network TV history, will be joining the Columbia-based Retirement Living TV channel on Tuesday as a weekly commentator.
The 91-year-old journalist, who was anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News during its heyday from 1962 to 1981, will appear on videotape delivering editorial commentaries every Tuesday during the Daily Cafe, a two-hour noontime program anchored by former CNN newscasters Bobbie Battista and Felicia Taylor. Titled Cronkite Commentaries, the segments will run 7 to 10 minutes.
"The relationship with Walter Cronkite has taken a fair amount of time to develop - I've been talking to him and his team for over a year," said Elliot Jacobson, vice president of programming and production for the channel that targets viewers 55 and older.
"But we believe it's worth the effort. We don't believe in living by sound bites on Retirement Living. We explore ideas and provide context, and that's a perfect setting for Walter Cronkite, who set the standard for quality journalism in this country."
Adding an extra bit of network news luster to the channel, Cronkite Commentaries will be introduced by Katie Couric, the current anchor of CBS Evening News.
Thinking back to Cronkite's introduction of Couric on her first appearance at the CBS anchor desk in September 2006, Jacobson said he called CBS News last week to see whether Couric would return the favor.
"We called CBS at probably about 11 a.m. one day last week, and by 7 o'clock that evening, they had recorded and Fed-Ex'd out the tape of Couric on camera introducing Cronkite. They were absolutely onboard with it."
Cronkite's first editorial tackles the coming presidential primaries: "And he doesn't mince words," Jacobson says.
Cronkite was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment, according to Julie Sukman, an assistant in his CBS office. But she did confirm that Cronkite was joining the cable channel as a commentator.
Jacobson declined to address specifics of Cronkite's contract: "We're not discussing terms of the deal," he said.
Cronkite has been a fairly steady presence on radio and television since stepping down from the CBS anchor desk in 1981. He founded the Cronkite Ward production company in 1993 and appeared on camera in dozens of documentaries for the Discovery Channel, based in Silver Spring. In recent years, he has also done a series of occasional essays for National Public Radio.
Still, the addition of Cronkite is a coup for the cable channel, which has grown from being in 12 million American homes when it launched on Sept. 5, 2006, to 29 million homes today.
Now averaging about 50,000 viewers at any given time during the day on DirecTV (Channel 364) and Comcast, Retirement Living can also be accessed online at www.rl.tv. In the Baltimore area, Retirement Living programming runs on CN8 (Channel 8) weekdays from noon to 4 p.m.
Established by John Erickson, chairman and chief executive of Catonsville-based Erickson Retirement Communities, the TV operation has aggressively built an audience in part through the addition of veteran network and cable journalists such as former NBC correspondents John Palmer and Lea Thompson.