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.