There has been a steady flow of rumors floating around the TV news business in Canada for over two years about the future of both Lloyd Roberstson at CTV News and Peter Mansbridge at CBC News. If the scuttlebutt is to be believed, both networks are looking for a replacement host for their flagship newscasts.
Loyal viewers are sure to be surprised by this news, mainly because, as the research shows, most people watch just one major television newscast and having made that choice, are either satisfied with what they are getting or they don’t know what the other channels have to offer.
Let’s begin with the situation at CTV. For years now, people in the know have been asking when Lloyd Roberstson is going to retire. He’s well into his seventies now. I wonder why he would want to. He works about three hours per day for about four days per week. Sprinkle in the generous vacation times, a massive six figure salary and you have the Johnny Carson of Canadian news. He’s still popular with the audience and his ratings have held up for decades. So why change a good thing? The only obvious reason is that Lloyd will have to retire sometime and CTV would prefer to set the timing so they can be prepared with a replacement.
Peter Mansbridge, on the other hand, has never really been loved by the audience the way Lloyd is. He is respected but he is not an audience grabber. More to the point, before he signed a two year contract extension a year ago, CBC insiders were saying that a rift between Peter and Vice President and chief poobah, Richard Stursberg, would mean the end of Peter’s tenure at CBC. Within the newsroom there’s a list of grievances against Peter. The most frequently heard complaint is that he demands a say in every decision, especially about news content and hiring. Both lead to problems. Peter has an unhealthy love of Ottawa politics. He is fascinated by the minutia that the viewing audience could care less about and that hurts ratings. As far as hiring is concerned, he is said to surround himself with people who agree with him, any argument and you could find yourself sent to the Siberia of CBC News, Newsworld, or worse. I am not sure whether this is true, but I can vouch for the fact that some extremely talented newsroom staff have been banished, pushed and prodded off The National. Many of those people would be assets to a newsroom short on experienced assets.
While all of this is fascinating the real reason for dumping the icons of national news in Canada could be even more interesting. The real prize, it seems, is Kevin Newman the star of Canwest/Global’s First National. With no obvious replacement from within for their stars at the major networks Kevin is, or at least should be, everyone’s first choice to replace either Peter or Lloyd.
Kevin has been highly successful, garnering, if you can believe Canwest/Global’s publicity, a larger audience than both Peter and Lloyd, and, he does this at a time slot that is hardly traditional for national news in Canada. In Toronto he’s on at 5:30. Add to this the fact that he is host of a mediocre newscast at best, with a poor reporting staff and few international bureaus and his success is all the more amazing. Since nobody I know attributes the success of the newscast to the program that Canwaest/Global produces, it must, they believe, be Kevin.
Kevin Newman is a highly thought of journalist with arguably more field experience than either of the other options, a fact the audience doesn’t care about but is very important to news insiders. He is also considered one of the really good people working in news in Canada. Those who know Kevin, both like and respect him.
But why leave Canwest/Global? The argument is that any serious news person wants to work on a high quality newscast with good budgets, foreign bureaus, high-caliber reporters, and at a network that has shown a serious interest in news as something other than a CRTC requirement and loss leader for purchased U.S. programming.
The speculation today is about where Kevin Newman would prefer to go. Insiders say he was treated quite poorly by CBC when he was the host of Midday. Shortly afterwards he went to Good Morning America and later Nightline at ABC in New York. But CBC still offers the biggest most prestigious newscast in Canada, the prize any Canadian newsreader is supposed to covet. Is it big enough to let bygones-be-bygones and return to the network where he began his climb to stardom?
CTV seems to be the perfect solution. It is bigger and more prestigious than Canwest/Global. There is certainly a commitment to news, maybe even greater in the long run than CBC based on recent CBC cuts and maneuvering. There is just the one roadblock: Lloyd.
I don’t know where Kevin Newman will wind up. Will he jump to CBC or CTV or will he stay to help build a serious newscast at Canwest/Global? What I do know is that his contract has about a year left on it and both major networks will want to take a crack at getting him on board, if for no other reason, to keep him off the other guys’ team.