Katie Couric – CBS News Divorce Imminent
CBS plans to oust Katie Couric from the anchor chair of the “Evening News” soon after the election, Rebecca Dana reports for WSJ.
After two years of record-low ratings, both CBS News executives and people close to Katie Couric say that the “CBS Evening News” anchor is likely to leave the network well before her contract expires in 2011 — possibly soon after the presidential inauguration early next year.
Adding to the pressure on CBS to improve the newscast is the faltering performance of CBS’s prime-time schedule and CBS Corp. itself. CBS’s stock price has slumped in recent months amid questions about the company’s growth potential. Its broadcast network is a key revenue source for CBS — more so than for most media companies, which tend to have a wider array of assets.
One possible new job for Ms. Couric: succeeding Larry King at CNN. Mr. King, who is 74 years old, has a contract with the network into 2009. CNN President Jon Klein, a CBS veteran with close ties to some at the network, has expressed admiration for Ms. Couric’s work, and the two are friends. They had lunch in late January, and the anchor attended Mr. Klein’s birthday party in March. Time Warner Inc.’s CNN said, “Larry King is a great talent who consistently delivers the highest profile guests, and we have no plans to make a change.” Through a publicist, Mr. King declined to comment. Mr. King’s talk-show slot at CNN might be a better fit than evening-newscast anchor for Ms. Couric, who is 51. She made her reputation as a skilled interviewer when she was an anchor at the “Today” show on General Electric Co.’s NBC network.
CBS Chief Executive Les Moonves lured Ms. Couric to CBS with promises that the staid “CBS Evening News,” once anchored by Walter Cronkite, would be remade in a format more suited to her skills. He vowed to dedicate more money to the broadcast and to build up its Web presence. People close to Ms. Couric complain that the network didn’t follow through on all those promises.
When she started on the show in September 2006, Ms. Couric incorporated longer interviews, occasionally conducted in front of a fireplace, and chatty asides into the broadcast. For the first few days, curiosity drove more than 10 million viewers to tune in, but in the months that followed, Ms. Couric’s ratings plummeted to a low for the broadcast, bottoming out to around five million in the spring of 2007 — well below the seven million viewers the show was drawing before Ms. Couric’s arrival.
Since then, the network has scaled back its ambitions drastically, returning to a traditional format. Ratings have ticked up modestly, but Ms. Couric’s show is still placing a distant third. For the week of March 31, the “CBS Evening News” drew an average of 5.9 million viewers. By contrast, NBC’s “Nightly News With Brian Williams” drew 8.3 million viewers and ABC’s “World News With Charles Gibson” drew eight million.
All three broadcast-network evening newscasts have been losing viewers for years. In 2007, the total audience for NBC’s “Nightly News,” ABC’s “World News” and CBS’s “Evening News” was 23 million, a 5% drop from 2006, according to Nielsen Media Research.
CBS is in a particularly difficult situation because its affiliate TV station group is weaker than those of other broadcast networks, a result of the loss of some of its strongest affiliates to News Corp.’s Fox network in 1993 after Fox outbid CBS for the right to air National Football League’s NFC games. (Last year, News Corp. bought Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.)
While I always thought the perky Couric a poor choice for Walter Cronkite’s old job, she was in an untenable position. She took over a third place network that was beset with scandal and which had serious capital and infrastructure disadvantages compared to its competitors. That’s not a good position from which to work miracles, which is what she was expected to do.
Then again, it’s hard to feel to sorry for her. She’s made an amazingly high salary over the years and was given a shot at the most prestigious job in network news. And, certainly, Larry King’s slot would be a soft landing.