Stay Where You Are, Katie
By Stephen Winzenburg -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/19/2006 7:00:00 PM
Katie Couric's serious consideration of the anchor job at CBS Evening News is understandable. Better hours, more money and the prestige of sitting in the same chair as Walter Cronkite make it one of the most attractive jobs in television. But Katie could use a little advice from an objective observer.
Don't do it.
Katie should instead recall the failures of those who have gone before her, the women who thought they could make an easy transition from morning talk host to evening news anchor.
Barbara Walters, the first to attempt the leap from morning to early evenings, admits herself that her co-anchoring what was then the ABC Evening News was a dismal failure. Connie Chung, the second full-time network weeknight female news anchor, caused the CBS Evening News to drop in the ratings and fit uncomfortably with Dan Rather.
Others—for example, Deborah Norville, Kathleen Sullivan, Jane Robelot, Lisa McRee and Jane Clayson—left mornings for lower-profile gigs. Even Maria Shriver, Paula Zahn and Joan Lunden never quite caught the attention in prime time that they did when they were featured in the early morning hours.
Success stories for women have come only when they were partnered with others: Jane Pauley with Stone Phillips on Dateline, Diane Sawyer on 60 Minutes and PrimeTime Live, and Barbara Walters on 20/20 and The View. Katie Couric's fortune from being the “girl next door” has also come from sitting next to a strong male.
Do viewers want to watch Katie sitting alone at a desk, sternly delivering the latest disaster over the dinner hour? Probably not. Her image has already struggled (and her Q score reportedly dropped from 24 to 19, lower than the women on competing shows), and recent readjustments to Today prove that NBC understands that audiences want a playful, humble Katie. But those are different personality traits than are needed for an evening newscaster.
Of course, all of the reasons not to take the job may be what drive her to consider the position. She wants a challenge. It would help her flex the journalistic skills she may feel are underutilized. And she could be the first woman to ever successfully head an evening newscast.
Katie Couric is very good at what she does, and she is paid well for it. She's the perky and intelligent morning cheerleader who dreams of being a news quarterback. But her skills, and television history, reveal that she may be happier staying on television's sidelines instead of trying to take over calling the plays in the big game.
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