That’s the way it was: New CBS channel turns back time

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite will be back on TV. And I for one couldn’t be happier.

That’s the headline as far as I’m concerned out of news this week that CBS is launching a new digital network called Decades in partnership with Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting.

Set to debut this spring on a digital subchannel of WBBM-Channel 2 and 15 other CBS-owned stations nationwide, Decades will feature news and entertainment programming culled from the network’s vast library and organized around theme and dates. It will mark the first time CBS 2 is utilizing its digital tiers.

Neal Sabin, vice chairman of Weigel Broadcasting and the programming genius behind MeTV, Me-Too, The U and the just-launched Heroes & Icons, among other channels, said he hopes to air as many of Cronkite’s vintage broadcasts as possible, including perhaps nightly runs of the “CBS Evening News” from the Cronkite era. Way to go, Neal.

Revered by millions as “The Most Trusted Man in America,” Cronkite stepped down as anchorman of the “CBS Evening News” in 1981 and died in 2009 at age 92. But his archive of work represents an unparalleled record of the second half of the 20th century.

Neal Sabin

Neal Sabin

“The overall concept of Decades is to create a daily time capsule of historical events of all types — hard news, pop culture and entertainment,” Sabin said. “Our relationship with CBS News will enable Decades to tell these stories via legendary journalists such as Walter Cronkite. Viewers will relive — or for younger viewers, experience for the first time — how events large and small were first brought to the attention of the American public.”

A centerpiece of the network will be “Decades Retrospectical,” a daily one-hour program that will be produced around the news events and cultural touchstones of a specific day, week or theme. Shows presented each day will reflect that day’s theme or commemorative event, according to CBS.

Entertainment programming will be drawn from among more than 100 classic series going as far back as “I Love Lucy,” which debuted in 1951.

“Decades is the most ambitious and creative subchannel programming service that has ever been created,” Peter Dunn, president of CBS Television Stations, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to partner with Weigel Broadcasting, the leaders in this space, to make smart use of our stations’ spectrums and our companies’ considerable programming assets. This service will be a tremendous new business for CBS and all of the other stations across the country that participate, regardless of their primary network affiliation.”

Added Sabin: “In a video marketplace filled with more and more trivial information and exploitation, Decades will showcase substance and class, and have some fun in doing so.”