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For CBS' Scott Pelley, routine is a marathon

By Mark Washburn
mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. For a week Scott Pelley, Bob Schieffer and three dozen staffers of the “CBS Evening News” are smushed into twin skyboxes at Time Warner Cable Arena, a snake-pit of cables and a techno-pile of random gear.

It looks big on TV, but Pelley and Schieffer sit bar-stool close at a table overlooking the convention floor, doing the 10 p.m. special each night as events unfold beneath them.

For Pelley, who took over as the network’s chief anchor a year ago, days in Charlotte begin at 7 a.m. with a workout at the gym in the Ritz-Carlton, then he starts writing.

This is a good town to Pelley – he likes it, and it likes him. Since he took over as anchor, “CBS Evening News” ratings are up 14 percent in Charlotte.

Pelley has two full-time jobs, but this week he has three. He’s doing the evening news, then the convention, and also pulling together a special “60 Minutes” report on a Navy Seal who reveals the inside story of killing Osama Bin Laden. It will take the entire hour of “60 Minutes” this Sunday (7 p.m., Channel 3), unusual in the show’s history.

“I write a section of the script, then send it to New York. Then I talk to them, and fix it. Then I write another section, then I talk to New York,” says Pelley. “There’s no such thing as good writing – only good rewriting.”

About 1 p.m. he arrives at the arena and touches base with convention correspondents Norah O’Donnell, Byron Pitts, Nancy Cordes, Bill Plante and CBS News political director John Dickerson.

And back to writing. On one laptop, he’s doing scripts for the “CBS Evening News.” On another, “60 Minutes.”

At 3 p.m., there’s a conference call with key producers to map the 6:30 p.m. broadcast. Then back to writing. After the evening news, he has dinner at the anchor desk and Schieffer comes in to talk convention coverage.

Pelley and Schieffer are constantly fed information through earphones because the din of the convention makes conversation all but impossible. In New York, a director picks the camera shots from Charlotte.

As the seconds tick down toward airtime, they look over advance copies of the night’s speeches, occasionally underlining key passages.

“Suddenly it’s 10 and we’re on – and suddenly it’s over and we’re off.”

Pelley is intensely driven. He works seven days a week, 11 hours a day. There’s a good side to it, he says. “60 Minutes” is in reruns during the summer.

“So there’s whole months where he only works six days a week,” says Patricia Shevlin, his executive producer.

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