Any routine viewer who tuned in to watch CBS Evening News at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Tuesday night immediately knew something was amiss. By 6:31, anchor Norah O’Donnell would normally be delivering the opening teases. But by 6:32, the commercials were still running and they were all for CBS entertainment properties. It wasn’t until 6:34 when the commercials ended and CBSN, the network’s 24-hour online streaming service, started to play that it was clear that the show wasn’t coming on.
It was the latest embarrassment for a network struggling against their broadcast competitors: ABC’s World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News.
It wasn’t until 6:43 p.m. Eastern that the CBS Evening News Twitter account broke the silence to tell viewers what happened. “[CBS News] is currently experiencing technical difficulties. We will bring you the CBS Evening News as soon as possible. We apologize for the issue.”
.@CBSNews is currently experiencing technical difficulties. We will bring you the CBS Evening News as soon as possible. We apologize for the issue.— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) May 19, 2020
What made the newscast’s absence painfully ironic was the promotional video that ran in the interim. “In times of uncertainty, there’s one voice you can turn to: CBS Evening News With Norah O’Donnell,” the on-screen text said.
A habitual watcher of the show (as this author has been) would notice that ever since the show was moved from their New York City studio to their Washington, D.C. office last summer, O’Donnell’s newscast has been plagued with more minor technical glitches and hiccups than it was previously. And far beyond what ABC and NBC had displayed.
An hour and a half after the show would normally begin, CBS News released a follow-up statement (below) on Twitter saying that they were in the process of fixing the problem, and the other time zones would still see the newscast.
At around the same time, O’Donnell took to Instagram with a video to address concerns that something horrible had happened at the studio. “Thanks, everybody for checking in,” an exacerbated sounding O’Donnell said. “We’re fine, but tonight there was a major technical issue that prevented the broadcast from being seen on the East Coast.”
He added: “It’s a broadcast in the era of COVID, we have a very small team here in our D.C. bureau. Thank you to them for all their hard work every day and especially today. Thank you, guys. Be safe and we’ll see you tomorrow night.”
Thanks everyone for checking in - we are fine, but a technical issue tonight prevented us from being seen on the East Coast. Good news, the show will air in the Midwest and West and will be online shortly! It’s broadcasting in the era of COVID.
A post shared by Norah O'Donnell (@norahodonnell) on May 19, 2020 at 4:59pm PDT
As their follow-up statement promised, the broadcast was uploaded onto cbsnews.com. Or, at least the A-Block was.
The technical difficulties CBS had suffered could have been audio related. That was based on the observation that O’Donnell sounded as though she was broadcasting from inside a well with a tin can for a microphone. In addition, she had not one but two mics on her lapel.