New CBS News Boss Susan Zirinsky’s Top Priority? Fixing the Ratings

“The good news is that in some areas the only place to go is up,” Joe Concha, a media critic for The Hill tells TheWrap

Susan Zirinsky, a beloved figure at CBS News who started out as a production clerk in 1972, will have her fair share of fires to put out as she takes over the network’s news division following the ouster of David Rhodes.

First and foremost: turning around CBS News’ precipitous ratings slide over the last year.

In 2018, three of the network’s marquee shows — “CBS Evening News,” “CBS This Morning” and the Sunday morning chat fest “Face the Nation” — all declined from 2017 in both overall ratings and in the critical advertiser coveted 25-54-year-old demographic.

“Hard to sugarcoat, but it’s mostly a mess at CBS News outside of the consistent success of ’60 Minutes,’ which is enjoying yet another great season,” Joe Concha, a media critic for The Hill, told TheWrap.

Over the last year, Rhodes’ gambles to shuffle top on-air talent failed to spike viewer interest. Glor, who was heralded as a bold internal hire when he replaced Scott Pelley in December 2017, has lost ratings ground to both ABC’s David Muir and NBC’s Lester Holt. Ratings dropped tumbled last year 5 percent overall and 10 percent in the demo.

In the case of “CBS This Morning,” the staffing shuffle was prompted by #MeToo accusations against co-anchor Charlie Rose that forced his ouster in November 2017. But Rose’s replacement, John Dickerson, has seen the show slide even further behind its broadcast competitors, “Good Morning America” and “Today,” dropping 10 percent overall and 13 percent in the demo.

And at “Face the Nation,” where Margaret Brennan replaced Dickerson last February, viewership has fallen 10 percent overall and 15 percent in the demo, according to Nielsen data.

While competitors at ABC and NBC were generally down too for the year in those day parts, the declines at CBS News were the steepest, the data show.

Reps for Zirinsky and the network did not respond to requests for comment.

This week, “CBS This Morning” host Gayle King alluded to the network’s troubles on air and expressed confidence that Zirinsky would be able to turn the situation around.

“I feel that we were sort of like a ship, not sinking, but taking on water,” King said during Monday’s broadcast. “And I feel that she is someone who can right the ship, because she gets us, she knows us. And by us I mean this organization. She’s been here for a very long time. She is a smart cookie and she is a badass in every sense of the word.”

The good news is that the division’s two primetime shows appear to be in good shape. “60 Minutes” is up 11 percent in the 18-49 demo so far this season, and “48 Hours” is up 6 percent in the demo.

Looking beyond ratings, Zirinsky will also have to put her mark on a larger cultural overhaul taking place at the network, which has seen the #MeToo-related ouster of high-profile executives like network CEO Les Moonves to longtime “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager.

Before she was named president, Zirinsky had been considered as a replacement for Fager. Now the longtime newswoman, who’s executive produced CBS’ “48 Hours” since 1996, will be charged with filling both of the top slots at the network’s primetime news magazines. The status of a year-long investigation into misconduct at CBS News after Rose was fired also remains unclear.

“She has her work cut out for her and she’s certainly capable,” Concha said of Zirinsky. “The good news is that in some areas the only place to go is up.”