Think it's too late to bring Bill & Walter back for a fourth time?
In hindsight, WBBM-Channel 2 bosses may be sorry they gave the heave-ho to Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson last February after two and half years as 6 o’clock news anchors.
With three nights to go in the November sweeps, overall ratings are down 17.2 percent for the CBS-owned station’s 6 p.m. newscast compared with the same period last year, according to Nielsen. Among viewers between 25 and 54, they’re down 37.5 percent.
In jettisoning the legendary anchor duo, CBS 2 chose to deploy its 5 and 10 p.m. team (news anchors Rob Johnson and Kate Sullivan, meteorologist Steve Baskerville and sports anchor Ryan Baker) at 6 p.m. as well. The move was seen as a way to trim a couple of salaries and consolidate promotional efforts behind Johnson and Sullivan. The strategy backfired.
Johnson and Sullivan's other two newscasts aren’t faring so well either. CBS 2 is down 15 percent at 5 p.m. and 16.4 percent at 10 p.m. in overall households. Among 25-to-54 viewers, the shows are down 25 percent and 33.3 percent, respectively. In every case, the station lags behind ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 and NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.
For Kurtis, now 73, and Jacobson, now 76, the gig marked their third partnership on the CBS 2 anchor desk. Their first run, starting in 1973, ushered in a golden era of excellent reporting and unrivaled ratings for the station. Their second, starting in 1985, was cut short amid pressure for racial and gender diversity.
Some viewed their comeback in August 2010 as more of a marketing stunt (and an easy payday for the two septuagenarians) than a genuine commitment to the values Kurtis and Jacobson espoused. Regardless of motives, the two embraced their last hurrah with gusto. When it was over last February, they acknowledged that neither had any desire or intention to retire from CBS 2 — notwithstanding the phony “happy retirement” hoopla that accompanied their sign-off.
“I think we both came to work seeing all these stories to be done and feeling the old juices flowing again,” Kurtis told me at the time. “Then, like an old-timer who sees a pretty girl and realizes that doing something about it is nature’s payback, we realized that the younger reporters are very good. We enjoyed watching them fight the cold and rain as we sat by the fire and talked about the good old days.”