Lisa de Moraes TV Column: Dan Rather's Suit Against CBS Tossed Out

Dan Rather's lawyer says they intend to file an appeal of the New York court decision.
Dan Rather's lawyer says they intend to file an appeal of the New York court decision. (By Kathy Willens -- Associated Press)
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By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dan Rather's legal wrangling slogs into its third year: His lawyer vows he will appeal a New York court ruling Tuesday that tossed out the former evening news anchor's $70 million breach-of-contract suit against CBS Corp.

The complaint "must be dismissed in its entirety," ruled the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, saying there was no breach of contract because CBS had honored the "pay or play" clause in Rather's contract. That is to say the company had continued to pay Rather his annual salary -- $6 mil -- even after he left the "CBS Evening News" in March 2005, when he was named a correspondent for the CBS newsmag, "60 Minutes."

Rather held the position of "60 Minutes" correspondent through summer 2006, after which he left CBS altogether. He filed his lawsuit in September 2007.

Rather says he was yanked from the evening news desk over a 2004 report that looked at President George W. Bush's military service. Rather narrated the report that aired on the since-canceled "60 Minutes II"; that report said Bush got preferential treatment during his Vietnam War-era service in the Texas Air National Guard. In that report Rather cited documents CBS News had obtained -- the authenticity of which were later brought under attack.

"We believe the decision is incorrect on a number of grounds and, accordingly, we intend to ask the New York Court of Appeals to review it," Martin Gold, lead Rather attorney, said Tuesday in a statement about the Appellate Court.

CBS boasted Tuesday that the court's decision means "this lawsuit is now effectively over."

"If they were right, there would be no reason to have a court of appeals," Gold told the TV Column.

Rather had anchored "The CBS Evening News" for 24 years.

Jeff Fager, executive producer of "60 Minutes," told the Los Angeles Times in August, "It's hard to watch" Rather's never-ending legal fight.

"It's like he is in some paranoid nightmare where everybody is out to get him. We're all witnessing the poor guy thrashing around, tormented. . . . I can't for the life of me understand why he's doing this, how he could turn such a storied career into this train wreck," added Fager, who apparently got to know Rather not at all during their years working together.

* * *

Premiere Week was cause for celebration throughout the broadcast television firmament. Unless you were NBC. Or Ashton Kutcher. Then, not so much.

Here's a look at the week's winners and losers:

Winners

"NCIS." Try to find someone who had forecast that this CBS drama, in its seventh season, would debut with its biggest audience ever -- 21 million viewers -- and wind up the most watched show of Premiere Week. Can't be done. And, when the ratings dust settled on the first week of the 2009-10 TV season, "NCIS" was followed most closely by its own spinoff, "NCIS: Los Angeles," with 19 million -- the season's most successful new-series launch so far.

"The Cleveland Show." Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" spinoff attracted the most young viewers of any new series with its debut Sunday. In hard numbers, "The Cleveland Show" attracted 6.5 million 18-to-49-year-olds. By the way, that seventh-season debut of "NCIS" on your grandmother's network, CBS, also attracted about that many 18-to-49-year-olds.

"House." Abandoning the show's "children" to focus on Dr. House paid off for Fox, which won the first night of the new TV season for the first time in the network's history.

"Modern Family." Despite the show's obvious Kiss of Death Trifecta:

1. Critics love it.

2. It's a single-camera comedy with no laugh track.

3. It's a comedy on ABC.

. . . the ensemble series had a big opening night, attracting a crowd that rivaled that of CBS's hot comedy "Big Bang Theory" -- 13 million viewers. It was ABC's biggest comedy audience in two years.

Losers

"The Beautiful Life: TBL." One day after Nielsen sent word that the audience for the second episode of Ashton Kutcher's new supermodel soap had fallen to under 1 million viewers, CW announced it was yanking the show effective immediately and earning "TBL" the distinction of becoming the season's first cancellation. Ashton consoled himself over the weekend tweeting inspirational words from Winston Churchill and Aristotle, while also re-tweeting a Save TBL petition that had been launched on Petitiononline.com.

NBC. The network suffered its smallest Premiere Week total audience on record -- 7.6 million viewers -- with a prime-time slate that ran like a river of tears. Except Sunday football. Football did great: the week's fourth-most-watched program and No. 1 among the under-50-year-old viewers that advertisers pay a premium to reach. But after football, NBC's biggest audience of Premiere Week was scored by new nurse drama "Mercy" and "Law & Order: SVU," which ranked Nos. 39 and 40 with audiences of about 8 million each.

"Dollhouse." The second-season debut of Fox's ooh-it's-from-Joss-Whedon! drama series, in which star Eliza Dushku played a bride hooker, attracted only a lousy 2.5 million viewers. Fox says this show is a hit anyway because it attracts so many 18-to-34-year-olds. The season debut attracted 659,000 and one hour later, old-timer Jay Leno, on NBC, attracted 832,000 of them.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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