Thursday, May 24, 2007

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NBC drops Stone Phillips

Budget cutbacks at NBC News and declining network newsmagazine fortunes have cost longtime Dateline anchor Stone Phillips his $7-million-a-year job.

NBC announced Tuesday that it would drop Phillips, co-anchor of the franchise for 15 years, when his contract expires at the end of June.

At one point in the '90s during a glut of newsmagazines at the Big Three networks, Dateline aired as many as five editions a week.

But when NBC announced its fall schedule to advertisers last week, the newsmag best known for Chris Hansen's To Catch a Predator pedophile series will be down to one night a week, on little-watched Saturdays.

While CBS renewed both 60 Minutes and 48 Hours Mysteries, ABC cut PrimeTime Live from its fall slate, although PrimeTime will return at some point. Viewership of all network newsmagazines has declined over the years, as have network evening newscasts.

NBC is focusing on keeping anchors who wear several hats. Weekend Nightly News anchor John Siegenthaler recently was dropped in favor of Lester Holt, who also co-anchors Weekend Today. Similarly, Phillips' co-anchor, Ann Curry, will stay at Dateline while reporting for NBC and reading the news on Today.

Network news analyst Andrew Tyndall says NBC News, facing cuts ordered by parent company GE, was "smart" to cut Phillips. "You do much less harm to your news division if you cut from the anchor ranks than from newsgathering itself."

Phillips "was an appropriate hire in the mid-'90s when prime-time magazines were a major engine of growth and resources, but times have changed," Tyndall says.

Phillips could not be reached. He said in a statement that it had been "a wonderful 15 years. This is a great news division with a bright future."