Katie Couric moves to CBS
First female to anchor evening newscast solo looks forward to breaking new ground
By Hal Boedeker
The Orlando Sentinel
Katie Couric’s jump from NBC’s “Today” to anchor the “CBS Evening News” is risky for not only her but for television news. The move, which she announced Wednesday on “Today,” could rejuvenate nightly news or underscore its waning influence. For Couric, the transition will test her appeal and reveal whether the public accepts a solo woman in a role identified with Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather.
The Olympian - Click Here
Couric, 49, described her move as “the worst-kept secret in America.” She also will contribute to “60 Minutes” and anchor prime-time specials. She announced her decision as she celebrated her 15th anniversary as “Today” anchor.
“Sometimes I think change is a good thing,” she said. “Although it may be terrifying to get out of your comfort zone, it’s also very exciting to start a new chapter in your life.”
She will be the first woman to lead an evening newscast by herself.
Previous male-female anchor duos didn’t work: Barbara Walters with Harry Reasoner on ABC, Connie Chung with Rather on CBS. On ABC’s “World News Tonight,” Elizabeth Vargas shares duties with Bob Woodruff, who is recuperating from injuries suffered in Iraq.
Couric’s abilities divide viewers and industry analysts, and her transition will be closely followed when she takes the CBS anchor seat in September. In May, NBC will celebrate her departure from “Today”; she has been that program’s longest-serving anchor.
Meredith Vieira of ABC’s “The View” has emerged as the favorite to replace Couric, and NBC said an announcement would be coming in weeks.
Tom Brokaw jumped from “Today” to anchor “NBC Nightly News,” so Couric’s move isn’t without precedent. But Brokaw had also been White House correspondent.
“It would be a departure to have someone (as anchor) who hasn’t been an evening news correspondent,” said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a Washington think tank. “But maybe a more informal newscast is part of a plan.”
Rosenstiel described Couric as an enormously popular person who had made “Today” the most profitable program in network news. The show has logged 10 years of ratings supremacy in the morning and each year earns about $250 million in profit.
“It makes her a valuable commodity,” Rosenstiel said. “If she does this and the ratings don’t work out, CBS will find itself in a difficult spot. It will be a bump in the road for her.”
It will be lucrative, however it goes. Reports have put her “Today” salary at
$15 million annually, and CBS will pay her roughly the same in a five-year deal.
Couric is one of TV’s best journalists and a versatile interviewer, but her skills are not suited to the evening news, said Andrew Tyndall, who analyzes television news in the weekly newsletter “Tyndall Report.”
“The age of the celebrity superstar anchor is over,” Tyndall said. “The way the networks will go in the future will be online. Five, 10 years from now, they’ll be producing for any medium under the sun. In that world, you don’t need a superstar anchor.”
Under Bob Schieffer, who replaced Rather a year ago, the No. 3-rated “CBS Evening News” has rebounded. It averages 7.71 million viewers, an increase of 200,000 from a year ago. NBC’s “Nightly News,” with Brian Williams, is averaging 9.79 million, a drop of 720,000. ABC’s “World News Tonight” is drawing 8.73 million, down 910,000. Those declines reflect how the evening news, in the era of 24-hour news channels, is no longer the must-see rite it was in Cronkite’s era.
“CBS has grown its audience — that hasn’t happened in a long, long time,” Rosenstiel said. “They’re going to have the risk of tampering with that, but they’re going to have to do it as some point.”