"The CBS Evening News" is about to go gold.
That's more than 13,000 editions since "The CBS Television News" (TV, mind you, not radio) was born on May 3, 1948.This week, the broadcast looks back.
Not surprisingly, these reports give the good people at CBS News a chance to strut their stuff. To salute some of the great names of the past - Murrow, Sevareid, Collingwood, Kuralt. And to showcase way-back-when news footage with "Evening News" anchor Dan Rather as well as Lesley Stahl, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer and, of course, Walter Cronkite.
Here, again, are the big stories they brought viewers through the years: the civil rights struggle and the space race, the Cold War and the undeclared war, assassinations and a president resigning.
But mixed in with a sense of pride is honest wistfulness, too. Once upon a time, ratings weren't an obsession, and the boundary was clear between what was news and what was entertainment. Once, CBS News' preeminence was a given, and the impact of the "Evening News" unrivaled.
CBS News, like the rest of the world, has taken its licks the past half-century. But this week's series reminds us that tradition stubbornly survives within the House of Murrow. One telling sign of stability: In 50 years of the "Evening News," there have been just three (well, four) anchors.
"Good evening, everybody, here's the news picture tonight," signs on Douglas Edwards, a former World War II radio correspondent with the face of a choirboy, in a 1949 clip airing tonight.
But if Edwards, at age 30, became the broadcast's first anchor, he wasn't called that. The term didn't yet exist. It was a title that would be coined during coverage of the 1952 political conventions by producer Don Hewitt, who applied it to Cronkite.
When the man who would become Uncle Walter took over the "Evening News" on April 16, 1962, it had come a long way from the talking-head enterprise that Edwards had pioneered. And it was about to grow, expanding from 15 minutes to a half-hour in September 1963 - a week ahead of NBC's "Huntley-Brinkley Report."
The "Evening News"' current anchor took over on March 9, 1981. Seventeen years later, he still can't get enough.
"I go home happy every day," says Rather at the end of Friday's segment, "because I can be dumb as wall paint about a lot of things, but I'm at least smart enough to know I'm really lucky to have this job."
His tenure, while smiled upon in many ways, has had its trials as well, including those disastrous two years sharing the anchor desk with Connie Chung.
The Rather Era coincided with an uncertain new era for the evening news programs, signaled the year before by the birth of Cable News Network. News any time, all the time vs. 22 minutes once per day - little wonder Cronkite's grandiloquent "and that's the way it is" would give way to Rather's more measured signoff: "And that's part of our world."
"The CBS Evening News," like its counterparts at the other networks, has since been the scene of much soul-searching. At issue: What kind of newscast can best coexist with round-the-clock news channels and best compete with rivals like "Hard Copy" and reruns of "Married . . . with Children"?
In the past couple of years, NBC has tried colonizing "Nightly News" as the one-hour "News with Brian Williams" on its MSNBC cable channel. And ABC may try folding "World News Tonight" into its prime-time magazines.
And yet . . . each evening newscast, still rooted at what used to be agreed upon as "the dinner hour," retains its status as its news division's flagship program. Its ratings alone determine its network's standing (win, place or show) in each week's news derby. And its anchor - whether ABC's Peter Jennings, NBC's Tom Brokaw or Rather - remains the face of the network's entire news effort, and even of the network.
This "CBS Evening News" retrospective is a fitting way for the broadcast to pay tribute to itself. And it's a worthy tribute to an institution born at all three networks just a few months apart and still going strong.
"I myself said the evening news is a dying form - and I'm wrong," declares Don Hewitt, who knows a thing or two on the subject. "It is surviving very, very nicely."
PAYING NEW YORK A VISIT: Tom Snyder will conduct interviews high above Times Square and down in the subway when "The Late, Late Show" comes from New York all next week.
Snyder is in town this week, busily pretaping segments at River Cafe in Brooklyn, the Tavern on the Green in Central Park, and McSorley's Pub downtown. Also planned is a visit to City Hall and a behind-the-scenes trip to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, home of the hit Broadway musical "Titanic."
Among the guests who will welcome Snyder back to New York for his first "Late, Late Show" broadcasts are Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Bill Cosby, Peter Jennings, Regis Philbin, Carly Simon and Barbara Walters. "The Late, Late Show" airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. MDT on Ch. 2.