CBS News chief Bill Leonard talks of future coverage
Bill Leonard is the Quiet Man at CBS. But in his own seemingly silent way he has been responsible for major changes at CBS News. Williams A. (Bill) Leonard became president of CBS News on April 1, 1979, after 30 years as a CBS correspondent, producer, writer, and director of public-affairs broadcasts.
During "the Leonard years" . . .
* He was responsible for the development and supervision of "60 Minutes."
* He replaced Walter Cronkite with Dan Rather and brought Bill Movers back to CBS (although he lost Roger Mudd to NBC).
* He introduced "Sunday Morning" on CBS and has been instrumental in expanding the "CBS Morning News" to 90 minutes, from 7:30 to 9 a.m., starting Sept. 28 -- in the process arranging for "captain Kangaroo" to be moved to the 7 -to-7:30 a.m. spot, also starting Sept. 28.
* He moved Diane Sawyer from the State Department beat to co-anchor the "CBS Morning News" with Charles Kuralt.
* He scheduled a regular science show, "Walter Cronkite's Universe" (starting June 9); "In the News," a current events broadcast for children; and "Magazine," a monthly daytime informational broadcast.
* He has also scheduled a ground-breaking 4-to-4:30 p.m. daily news show, starting Sept. 28, and, for June 14-18, an unprecedented five hours of prime-time broadcasts on American defense.
Now interviewed in his CBS News office, far west on 57th Street, surrounded by a collection of New Guinea and Australian aboriginal carvings on the walls, Mr. Leonard says, "When I was asked by Gene Jankowski [CBS/Broadcast Group president] to take this job, I said, 'don't ask me to do this if you just want me to mind the store for a few years while you look around for a replacement [ when he reaches retirement age soon]. That's not my nature. I am going to do the things I want to do, what I think should be done.' Gene said 'Good.' So I have gone right ahead and done what I believe is needed. I feel fulfilled. I am very lucky. I count my blessings."
How long has Mr. Leonard, a native New Yorker, been at CBS?
"Since 1945. I got out of Dartmouth in 1937 and tried to join CBS then. But it took until 1945."
Although he is known as a strong company man, when he retires in a year or so , might he move to another network, as his predecessor, Richard Salant, did? (Mr. Salant moved to NBC).
"No, sir," he says briskly. "I will not. I'm going to be a consultant from Washington to CBS when I retire."
Does Mr. Leonard have any regrets about his choice of Dan Rather over Roger Mudd for the evening news?
"No regrets. I saw Dan as he has handled three or four emergencies in a row and I thought to myself, there isn't anybody -- maybe including even Walter -- who could have handled them any better."
Leonard insists that, despite reports to the contrary, there hasn't been any dropoff of viewers, although perhaps they are not the same viewers. "Studies show that Dan attracts a younger viewer and has a somewhat broader appeal to women. But that's dancing on the head of a pin -- I think the decision was the right decision."
Who will anchor the new 4 p.m. news show? There has been talk the CBS was courting Mario Thomas.
He nods his head. "What we need is somebody who is intelligent, issue-oriented, well educated, agood interviewer, reasonably attractive, and someone whom people know and trust.That's not easy to find.
"But I do think we ought to have somebody who is reasonably well known nationally in order to attract an audience. Now that could be a CBS news correspondent, of course." Mr. Leonard admits that he is talking to both Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw, whose contracts with ABC and NBC respectively run out soon.
There have also been rumors about an 11:30 p.m. CBS news show to compete with ABC's "Nightline.c
"I don't think that is a reasonable possibility on a five-day-a-week basis in the immediate future," he said. "I think it is much more likely we might do it one day a week. That might be a place to use Bill Moyers, in addition to his appearances as analyst on the evening news and his appearances on 'CBS Reports.' He might even to a 'Bill Moyers' Journal' on CBS."
When will CBS expand its evening news to an hour? That is something that is constantly talked about.
"I think that's going to happen. I know I keep saying that, and Salant said it before me. But I am still saying it and I think it will happen."
Will the expanded morning news follow the pattern of "Good Morning, America's and the "today" show?
"Both those shows are basically a marriage of show business and information. We don't do that at CBS News."
Mr. Leonard scoffs at the current attacks on the fairness and accuracy of "60 Minutes."
"It has been praised for so many years that, in the journalistic profession, there isn't any money to be made from doing a piece on how good it is. The only thing left to do is to say it isn't perfect. Well, it wasn't perfect to begin with. As it becomes influential, perceived as so powerful, it's inevitably going to be examined in a way that it wasn't before and that almost nothing else is. If that results in holding '60 Minutes' up to a higher standard, if it means holding a kind of journalistic gun to the head of the show, that can have some good effect."
Now that Cronkite's "Universe" is scheduled, are there other new areas for CBS News?
"I'm very anxious to put on a regular broadcast in the area of business and finance. we are all so involved with how to live and how to cope, how to manage in this world, that it seems to me that should be covered on a regular basis."
Why do the shows on US. defense for five successive nights"
"About a year ago, I had a proposal for documentaries from some of out people , and one of them was what kind of Army we need. I said, 'What you are saying is the most important subject we could possibly do. Ut concerncs the very fact of our existence, the defense of the United States. But you can't do it in an hour.' So I suggested we do it five nights in a row."
Aren't there any ambitions this gray-haired, athletic-lookinging newsman has not yet managed to accomplish?
Mr. Leonard grins. "Yes I always wanted to play San Francisco and time sort of tapped me out.
Seriously, everything I've wanted to do professionally, I've been able to do within the framwork of CBS News."