In May, CBS shook up its evening newscast by naming a new anchor, Norah O’Donnell. It’s also making a more unexpected move: to DC. CBS Evening News has never been based in the District—in fact, no network has ever broadcast its nightly national news program solely from Washington. But given the greater interest in political coverage during the Trump era, and with the program lagging behind ABC’s and NBC’s equivalents in the ratings, CBS News president Susan Zirinsky decided to give it a try.
Beginning in the fall, O’Donnell will sit behind the desk on a new set in CBS’s studio on M Street, Northwest. The launch is one year before the 2020 presidential election, signaling a push toward political coverage. “Every major issue that is affecting an American household has a nexus in Washington,” says O’Donnell, a longtime White House correspondent who has deep Washington roots. (She went to Georgetown and is married to local restaurateur Geoff Tracy.)
Can a change of venue really attract more viewers? After all, your screen will still look much the same—a newscaster behind a desk reading the headlines. “It’s a gamble,” says Tom Bettag, a longtime TV-news producer who spent five years overseeing CBS Evening News With Dan Rather. But the move is about more than the backdrop. It also sends a message to both viewers and potential sources: that CBS wants to “be the place for people looking for a smart broadcast—a newscast that really takes Washington seriously,” says Bettag.
That jibes with O’Donnell’s vision for the revamped program. “You want to get the best information, the best sources, the best scoops,” she says, then mentions the Rosslyn garage where Bob Woodward met Deep Throat. “That was not in New York City. It was near Washington.”
This article appears in the September 2019 issue of Washingtonian.