That was the news: Brokaw bids farewell to NBC after 21 years

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The Independent US

Politicians, pop stars and sports heroes come and go, but not, it seemed, the chief news anchors of the three old established television networks in the United States, for more than two decades re-assuringly permanent figures in a world in flux.

Politicians, pop stars and sports heroes come and go, but not, it seemed, the chief news anchors of the three old established television networks in the United States, for more than two decades re-assuringly permanent figures in a world in flux.

Tonight, however, an era ends, with the last appearance of Tom Brokaw at the helm of NBC's Nightly News , the post he has held since 1983. Next March, it will be the turn of Dan Rather, anchor of CBS Evening News since 1981. Of the "Big Three", only Peter Jennings, 66 and anchor of ABC's World News Tonight since 1983, will be left.

The valedictory of the 64-year-old, with his sculpted features and sometimes impenetrable mid-western drawl, has been a low-key, almost seamless affair. His successor, Brian Williams, has been groomed for years and takes over as NBC is entrenched as the network news ratings leader.

Not so the changing of the guard at CBS, where the opinionatedRather, 73, is clearly being eased out. His departure was announced before publication of a report into the debacle of the "scoop" involving fake documents about President George Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, in a programme presented by Rather.

His replacement has not been named, although John Roberts, its White House correspondent, seems the front-runner. Whoever takes over will do so at a show that has slumped to distant third in the ratings race - a far cry from CBS's glory days under Walter Cronkite, Rather's predecessor.

Taken together, the old-fashioned network news shows are far from the power they were before cable and the internet, when they were unchallenged as the source of news for most Americans. But even if their combined audience has dropped from 47 million in 1991 to barely 28 million today, it remains seven times as great as the four million who watch CNN, Fox and MSNBC combined.

But the oft-predicted demise of the nightly news has not occurred, nor does it seem likely to do so. Viewers of Messrs Brokaw, Rather and Jennings have continued to decline in number, but less rapidly than for network programmes in general.

Some even detect a slight recovery, as cable news becomes more personality oriented. "The institution still provides the most serious and well-organised look at what's happening in the world every day," Brokaw said.

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