ABC, CBS likely to also face generational change of TV anchors _ but not necessarily soon

Thursday, May 30th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Now that NBC has announced that Tom Brokaw will step down as its top anchor in two years, ABC and CBS also face succession issues surrounding Peter Jennings and Dan Rather.

Barring the unexpected, changes aren't likely soon.

Unlike Brokaw, Rather and Jennings haven't mused much about wanting to do something else. And unlike at NBC, where Brian Williams had been groomed for the top job for several years, CBS and ABC don't have an obvious, antsy successor in place.

Jennings, 63, faces the expiration of his ABC contract this summer and there were some reports that the financially strapped network would like to see him take a pay cut.

``We have every hope and expectation that Peter will be our anchor for many years to come but we will not discuss his contract in the press,'' ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said Wednesday.

One hint that it's likely to happen: ABC has already publicly said Jennings will anchor the network's anniversary coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, even though his current contract will have expired by then.

ABC ``Good Morning America'' host Charles Gibson is a frequent substitute anchor when Jennings is away. But at 59, it's not likely he would be a long-term choice to succeed Jennings.

Gibson could be an interim choice if a crop of young ABC personalities, including Claire Shipman, Elizabeth Vargas, George Stephanopoulos, Don Dahler, Terry Moran and Robin Roberts need more seasoning, said Andrew Tyndall, head of ADT Research, which studies network news content.

Rather, 70, has reportedly agreed to a new contract that will keep him at CBS until 2006, although it has not specified that he will remain as ``CBS Evening News'' anchor for that long.

Many of his colleagues expect Rather would want to continue his job as long as he's physically able. And at a network where 84-year-old Mike Wallace stars at ''60 Minutes,'' there's not a recent tradition of forcing people out because of age.

``There are no changes anticipated at the evening news anytime soon,'' CBS News spokeswoman Sandra Genelius said. ``We are fortunate to have several strong internal candidates and when the time comes, management will have open minds about internal and external possibilities.''

CBS reportedly expressed interest in Williams, but did not believe there was much chance in him leaving NBC.

John Roberts, CBS' chief White House correspondent; ''60 Minutes II'' correspondent Scott Pelley; and Russ Mitchell, host of the weekend ``Early Show,'' are considered possible candidates to succeed Rather.

The network has more pressing concerns. It still hasn't named a replacement for the departed Bryant Gumbel at ``The Early Show.'' It's also likely to face major personnel decisions at TV's top-rated newsmagazine, ''60 Minutes,'' before it does at the evening news.