Soon-to-be former CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, who’s being forced off the network’s signature newscast after six years at the helm, is said to be sorry that his acrimonious contract negotiations three years ago created bad blood with news division president David Rhodes.
“Scott regrets it,” a Pelley confidant told The Daily Beast, referring to the anchor’s decision to hire Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel in 2014 to obtain a more opulent deal than the estimated $5 million a year he was getting at the time.
Pelley was traveling in the Middle East and Europe for 60 Minutes—his once and future home when his anchor duties end—and unavailable; a CBS News spokesperson didn’t respond to messages requesting comment. Pelley is expected to resume his anchor duties next week until a temporary replacement is named.
CBS News management was caught flatfooted Tuesday night by the first report of Pelley’s departure in the New York Post’s Page Six column, and Rhodes, who is expected to consult on the decision with his boss, CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves, has yet to chose a successor.
A CBS insider threw cold water on speculation that CBS This Morning co-anchor Norah O’Donnell, or Face the Nation anchor John Dickerson, could be in the running; a second insider scoffed at the possibility that CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who already works part-time for 60 Minutes, might also be considered.
For the moment, CBS News veteran Anthony Mason will replace Pelley temporarily as “interim anchor” until a permanent anchor is named.
Emanuel, the co-CEO of the powerhouse talent agency William Morris Endeavor, is a famously aggressive negotiator and a thorn in the side of showbiz and media executives everywhere.
The youngest of the celebrated Emanuel brothers—the eldest, Zeke, is a prominent scientist and academic, and the other sibling is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—Ari was the model for the foul-mouthed, belligerent agent Ari Gold, played by Jeremy Piven in the HBO series Entourage.
In 2014, Pelley was reportedly making a fraction of what his counterparts at rival networks, notably NBC’s Brian Williams, were earning, even though his CBS colleagues consider him a superb journalist and a workhorse who not only was anchoring the weeknight newscast but also contributing frequent pieces to the top-rated Sunday magazine show 60 Minutes.
Yet Emanuel’s contract demands on behalf of Pelley came at a particularly unfortunate moment, when Pelley’s boss Rhodes was trying to control costs while toiling to rebuild CBS News, especially attempting an ultimately successful revamp of CBS This Morning; the news division president resented what he considered a shakedown, sources told The Daily Beast.
While Pelley initially managed to boost ratings after taking over the anchor chair from Katie Couric in 2011, making up around half of a 3 million-viewer loss, the program’s Nielsens plateaued and never came close to catching up with NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight. Ratings fell slightly in the latest May sweeps, on which advertising prices are set.
After Pelley signed his new, richer contract, his show’s audience remained stagnant, and his leverage with Rhodes eroded.
Pelley—who is sometimes accused of having a tin ear for corporate politics, a limited degree of self-awareness, and an anchorman’s outsize ego—eventually realized he had overplayed his hand, sources said.