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CBS News is mulling over changes to its lineup. According to Alexandra Steigrad of the New York Post, CBS executives plan to slash Norah O’Donnell’s salary and perhaps remove her as host of CBS Evening News as well.
O’Donnell’s contract with CBS, which pays her around $8 million per year, expires this spring, and now flashy new CBS co-president Neeraj Khemlani hopes to significantly reduce network salaries and bring Evening News back to New York.
At O’Donnell’s behest, previous CBS executives moved the nightly newscast from New York to Washington DC — at great expense to the network. Vastly cutting O’Donnell’s salary may now be necessary for O’Donnell agents if ViacomCBS plans to cut costs ahead of a potential sale.
“I don’t see a world in which Norah O’Donnell anchors the show from DC,” an insider told The Post. “The network definitely needs to lower her salary — halve it or put someone in who costs less.”
CBS sees O’Donnell as replaceable and, at close to $10 million annually, a negative on balance for two reasons.
— She can’t keep pace with her competition at 6:30 pm ET. In 2020, CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell averaged 5.92 million viewers, well behind David Muir’s ABC World News at 9.61 million and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt’s 8.29 million.
— Reports say that O’Donnell mistreats hair, makeup, and wardrobe staff. O’Donnell’s toxicity is her gravest flaw.
If O’Donnell refuses to move back to New York on a reduced salary, CBS can enhance her role on 60 Minutes, à la how the network handled Scott Pelley’s transition off Evening News in 2017.
So who could replace O’Donnell?
News junkies will remember reports that Brian Williams’ attorney, Bob Barnett, recently talked with Khemlani about an unspecified role at CBS. Brian Williams’ contract with MSNBC — which pays him around $10 million a year — expires at the end of the year. In addition, Williams wants to move away from his current 11 pm ET time slot. While Williams’ return to evening news would give CBS an opportunity to rebrand itself, it’s hard to imagine CBS inks the deal. At 62, Williams comes with baggage and a hefty price tag.
Therefore, CBS may look at Mornings co-host Tony Dokoupil. Dokoupil is just 40 and could host Evening News at close to his current salary of $2 million. Tony Dokoupil is just one of several in-house candidates who can make a case for O’Donnell’s job.
But before CBS decides what to do with O’Donnell, the network first has to figure out what to do with Gayle King. King, who’s also in the midst of negotiations with CBS, might leave Mornings on her own accord and move to Los Angeles. If CBS can’t keep King in the morning, Steigrad says CBS has discussed offering King a contract to create content for Paramount+, among other roles.
Replacing both King and O’Donnell in their current roles ahead of the 2022 midterms would create a staggering domino effect across the news industry, an outcome now increasingly realistic.