“I’m going to stay for sure through the inauguration.” That’s what Bob Schieffer, the host these last 17 years of CBS’s Sunday morning, half-hour news program Face the Nation, told TV Guide’s Stephen Battaglio at the end of 2007. “Quite frankly, I don’t know what I’m going to do after that.”
Neither does CBS News. Which must be why he told The New York Times recently that he was going to put off his retirement for an indefinite period of time at the behest of CBS News president Sean McManus.
“We’re going to have a transition period, maybe try some people out,” Mr. Schieffer said.
Phew! For a while now Mr. McManus will be busy getting Katie Couric her first presidential debate and finding a new Executive Producer for the Early Show.
Or could they have found their man, but have to wait until his or her contract expires to let Mr. Schieffer go?
Either way, they’ve been shuffling through the dossiers like mad, trying to figure out a post-Schieffer strategy. Here’s what they saw.
The Internal Promotion: Jeff Greenfield
Promoting somebody already on the CBS staff seems like a somewhat unlikely scenario. When it comes to top-tier political talent, CBS News currently has a thin bench, in part because the broadcast news division has no sibling cable news channel to help develop up-and-comers. Of those already on staff, Mr. Greenfield, a senior political correspondent, would seem like the top prospect. His knowledge of politics is encyclopedic. Then again, the 64-year-old New York native is not exactly (a) young or (b) a prototypical Washington insider—which some consider an important requisite for the job.
Another possibility: Scott Pelley. The last time around, Mr. Pelley was one of the internal finalists to replace Dan Rather. Since being passed over, Mr. Pelley, who, like Mr. Schieffer, is a native of Texas—tradition!—has continued to improve his stock with solid work for 60 Minutes. That said, CBS bosses might be hesitant to cannibalize the most successful arm of their news division. A long shot: CBS’ young and hungry Capitol Hill correspondent Chip Reid.
The Experienced Veteran: Chris Matthews
If CBS News wants someone who can step into the Face the Nation job with little hand-holding and a sizable built-in audience, they might choose Chris Matthews—the host of MSNBC’s Hardball and NBC’s Sunday morning The Chris Matthews Show.
Mr. Matthews is the ultimate Beltway blue-chipper (albeit one with enough controversy to scare off some potential F.C.C.-wary broadcasters). Reading deeply into the network tea leaves, he may soon be available. In 2003, during his commencement address at the College of the Holy Cross, Mr. Matthews thanked Bob Wright, then NBC’s chairman (and a fellow Holy Cross alum!), for helping Mr. Matthews hold onto his high-profile job at the network. In 2007, Mr. Wright retired. That would seem to leave Mr. Matthews, whose current contract is said to expire in June 2009, without one of his guardian angels at NBC. Jumping to CBS’s Face the Nation might be a highly appealing prospect to both parties. Best of all, Mr. Matthews would finally go head-to-head with his current in-house rival Tim Russert—a potential Washington blood sport that would be sure to attract tons of buzz and eyeballs.
A less likely choice: George Stephanopoulos. According to various news sources, in the summer of 2006, Mr. Stephanopoulos met with CBS News’ president, Sean McManus, to discuss the possibility of moving over to the Tiffany Network. At the time, CBS News reportedly wouldn’t offer Mr. Stephanopoulos the Face the Nation gig—a potential deal breaker. In the end, ABC matched CBS’s generous offer and Mr. Stephanopoulos stayed put. Mr. Moonves could make a second run at Mr. Stephanopoulos, though it seems hard to imagine why the seemingly content broadcaster would listen to the pitch this time around. Other possible poaching opportunities from the broadcast arena: ABC’s Jonathan Karl; PBS’s Charlie Rose; former NBC anchor Bryant Gumbel; ABC’s Terry Moran; or ABC’s Jake Tapper.
The Politico Angle: John Harris, Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen
In January 2007, CBS News announced that they were forming a partnership with Politico under which reporters from the nascent news operation would make regular and exclusive appearances on Face the Nation. That partnership appears to have frayed recently as Politico reporters have been observed appearing on rival Meet the Press. That said, according to a former network executive, the Politico honchos might still come into play.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if you saw one of the Politico stars, VandeHei, Harris or Allen, making a play for Face,” said the source. “Politico has a relationship with CBS already, those guys would love their own TV show and they have the political creds they need for that role.”
Format Buster: Al Gore and Newt Gingrich
Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, says that if CBS decides to tweak the format of the typical Sunday morning show, they should consider taking two garrulous former pols, one from the right and one from the left, who could match up evenly in a spirited weekly clash.
“If you’re talking ideal: Al Gore and Newt Gingrich,” said Mr. Sabato. “They could get their guests engaged and argue with them in a constructive way. That would be a circus. But it would be an instructive, educational circus.”