Katie Couric Failing as CBS Anchor

Katie Couric may be on her way out as anchor of the CBS Evening News, reports Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Gail Shister.

CBS executives deny it, but there’s a growing feeling within the network that Katie Couric is an expensive, unfixable mistake. So unfixable that Couric – the first woman to anchor a network nightly newscast solo – may leave CBS Evening News, probably after the 2008 presidential elections, to assume another role at the network, CBS sources say.

Despite her A-list celebrity, her $15 million salary, and a promotional blitz worthy of a Super Bowl, the former star of NBC’s Today has failed to move the Nielsen needle on No. 3 Evening News since her debut seven months ago. In a bottom-line business like television, that’s a cardinal sin. Already-low morale in the news division is dropping, says a veteran correspondent there. “It’s a disaster. Everybody knows it’s not working. CBS may not cut her loose, but I guarantee you, somebody’s thinking about it. We’re all hunkered down, waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

[…]

Couric, 50,draws fewer viewers than did avuncular “interim” anchor Bob Schieffer, 20 years her senior. Much of the feature-oriented format she debuted with is gone, as is her first executive producer, Rome Hartman.

“The broadcast is an abject failure, by any measure,” says Rich Hanley, director of graduate programs at the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University. “They gambled that viewers wanted a softer, less-dramatic presentation of the news, and they lost. It’s not fair to blame Couric for everything, but she’s certainly the centerpiece and deserves a fair share.”

The story is quite speculative and, indeed, all the CBS executives interviewed scoff at the notion of replacing Couric. Still, the fact that ratings are below those of the Bob Schieffer era–which was always handicapped by his “interim” title in a genre that thrives on building a personal relationship with viewers–is not a good sign. The only bright point is that Couric has brought in “6 percent more 18-to-49-year-old women than a year ago, while ABC and NBC are down sharply in those categories.”

This, though, is unfair:

Some predicted that Couric was destined to fail in her new position. For starters, the 6:30 p.m. news and Today call for totally different skill sets. And those sets are not easily transferrable. Couric’s effervescent personality and expertise with live interviews and ad-libs were perfect for morning TV, particularly over a leisurely two hours. On a 30-minute evening newscast, however, what’s required is the ability to read the TelePrompTer and not display too much emotion.

“I guess the evening news isn’t ready for the morning news,” quips Robert Lichter, president of Washington’s Center for Media and Public Affairs. Or, in the words of an NBC producer, “it’s like asking a centerfielder to pitch. It’s the same game, but requires totally different skills.”

While clever–and, frankly, my first impression when hearing the news that Couric was being considered for the job–it’s noteworthy that Tom Brokaw went from Today to the anchor chair at NBC with great success. The difference is that Brokaw was always a newsman whereas Couric was always known for perky chit-chat.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DaveD says:

    I truly believe there are other women who would have done a better job in the role as anchor. My particular fave would have been Ann Curry. But hey, if CBS wants to focus on “celebrity” it’s their option to go that direction if they wish.

  2. What is really sad is NBC could pay me half as much and I bet I could get ratings to rise. Simple formula of reporting the news fairly. See what it did for Fox news vs CNN and MSNBC. I guess I am just a conservative willing to do a job a liberal won’t for half the wage.

  3. Anderson says:

    Sigh. Re: “reporting the news fairly,” see the recent bit from Editor & Publisher. The “liberal media” was deliberately & expressly backpaging/softpedaling anything that questioned the case for war, and acting as a conduit for White House press releases:

    Of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news in the six months before the war, almost all could be traced back to sources solely in the White House, Pentagon or State Dept., Moyers tells Russert, who offers no coherent reply.

  4. Lisa says:

    I learned a long time ago I do think like the average woman…

    Couric has brought in “6 percent more 18-to-49-year-old women than a year ago,

    Why would anyone, not just women watch the news based on the sex of the anchor. But, my question is who still watches the evening news? I have not watched news on ABC, NBC, or CBS in more than 10 years, even when in crappy hotels one gets CNN or FoxNews.

    I personally loath Couric and stopped watching the Today Show when she came on board.

  5. I remember reading somewhere that perhaps CBS’ hiring of Ms. Couric was as much about damaging NBC’s Today show as it was about hosting the evening news. Maybe it was still a good deal for CBS, even if it wasn’t for Ms. Couric.

  6. Eneils Bailey says:

    I stopped watching this woman and the “today” show in the the early nineties.

    Thinking someone could transition for entertainment to news is beyond me.

    Celebrity based on interviewing movies stars and the the participants in the latest news of pop culture does not translate into becoming a respected journalist.

    When she was at NBC, my first impression was more of a cutesy-wutesy air-head than a person possessing skills to dig digger into an interview than to ask, “boxers or briefs?”

  7. There is a God.