NEW YORK — For his first week as moderator of CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, John Dickerson has no intention of playing around with a format consistent for more than half a century.
The CBS News political director replaces Bob Schieffer, who retired last week after 24 years at the Washington-based public affairs program. Unlike some people who enter a job in a whirlwind of new ideas, Dickerson is being cautious and has no qualms admitting it.
“I want to put my own stamp and touch on the show,” he said. “But I don’t know what that is yet.”
Dickerson, a former Time magazine correspondent and a Slate writer who joined CBS six years ago, saw in the archives that Sen. Joseph McCarthy was interviewed on the first “Face the Nation” in 1954. That illustrates a signature he wants to maintain, of booking the most important newsmakers he can each week and diving right in to questions.
His first week’s guests on the show that airs at 10:30 a.m. Sunday include three men with national aspirations for themselves or their ideas: just-announced GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. He’ll also speak with the head of the House Homeland Security Committee about efforts to fight terrorism.
“That was Bob’s mantra and advice: Stick to whatever the news is, figure out who you can have on who can illuminate that and ask the kind of questions that people want asked,” Dickerson said.
At least initially, he won’t do a weekly commentary. A reporter’s roundtable this week will feature Susan Page of USA Today, Jamelle Bouie of Slate, Ron Fournier of National Journal and Nancy Cordes of CBS. Dickerson plans to rotate different panelists each week.
Dickerson, 46, has a CBS heritage. His mother, Nancy Dickerson, was CBS News’ first female correspondent. Her son’s book about her, “On Her Trail,” is coming out in paperback this summer.
Schieffer left “Face the Nation” in strong shape: it often wins a tight ratings competition among the Sunday morning public affairs shows and the nearly 4 million people who saw his finale last week was the show’s biggest audience in four months. Dickerson is the second rookie in the space heading into a presidential election, with Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Dickerson appreciates the timing of the torch-passing, giving him the summer to get settled in before the campaign begins in earnest.
He’ll keep his job as political director, believing it necessary to report stories during the week to ask sharp questions on Sunday, and hopes to be in touch with viewers through social media and conversations on the road.
Schieffer was a true Washington insider, but his Texas twang reminded viewers he was from elsewhere. Dickerson grew up in Washington.
“I’m not exactly from the more interesting part of the country,” he said. “So I spend a lot of time talking to people and trying to figure out what I’m missing, and understand what they think is happening in Washington. I want people to see that reflected in the show. I want them to see things that are interesting and important to their lives going on in the show, and answer the questions that people care about.”