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and I can't do a thing about it

Newman on the Block

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.

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16 Responses

  1. Chad says:

    Flip a coin…. CBC..

  2. Susan says:

    Really like your ponderings about the 3 newscasts and agree that Kevin has clearly separated himself from the rest of the pack and he remains a prize. We so welcomed his approach with his newscast but mostly now ignore it because 24 minutes is never enough time to “drill down” as Kevin sometimes says, on any issue. Methinks Lloyd is happy to be involved but is soft and pandering too often. Mansbridge is very engaging but I really wish that he had interviewed Billy Bob Thornton instead of Ghomeshi. In taking his typical 8 minutes and 10,000 words to frame and “nuance” every question (to every guest) Billy Bob could have surgically cut to the chase with his simple two word answer beginning and ending with an “f”. Peter M. can be so very tiresome the way he words questions to garner the answer he wants.

  3. Chad says:

    Too bad comments don’t get posted..

  4. Lon says:

    Interesting. And what I find most interesting is how there seems to be only really one person who is in a position to replace either Mansbridge or Roberston. Is Kevin Newman all we have in Canada?

    I’m trying to think of some other names but can’t say I’m coming up with much. Where are our great young foreign correspondents who want to take a rest and read from the Prompter for a while?

    I remember Hilary Brown. What about Adrienne Arsenault?

  5. Mike Sr says:

    Kevin Newman’s success might be attributable to an increasing awareness by viewers of the more evident political bias on CBC and CTV.

  6. Lon says:

    Good comments about the Jackson coverage, but more important is that you took it on. Thank you.

    Nowhere in any op-eds or editorials have I seen anyone be honest about what we just witnessed, not only in what it says about the state of daily journalism today, but the business as a whole.

    I put this to anyone. In the hours and hours of the same information being repeated again and again, what was relevant?

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