Two Stars Reborn
By J. Max Robins -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/9/2006 8:00:00 PM
To my mind, Katie Couric's journey from Today to the CBS Evening News began more than five years ago, on Election Night 2000. Like a good many Americans, I watched the election coverage turn into a free-for-all that dragged on long into the night. On NBC, Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert were anchoring while Couric played a supporting role.
To say that the big boys were patronizing toward their colleague would be an understatement. Throughout the night, they acted like doughy Little Leaguers pretending they didn't know that the new girl on the team came with just as much game, if not more.
As Election Night turned into the Morning After and Couric resumed her customary role at the helm of Today, there was a startling transformation. The sleepless Couric was masterful, anchoring NBC's coverage of an historic moment with authority and poise.
In the midst of all the hoopla surrounding her jump to CBS, Couric has played down the notion that she was drawn by the opportunity to be the first solo female anchor of a network nightly newscast. Still, it's a big deal. For the first time, a woman will be the face of a major news operation. I'm well aware that these newscasts no longer have the clout they once did, but the anchor chair still means something big.
Contrary to the opinions of many of my colleagues—primarily male—I think Couric will shine in her new role. When the next 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina happens, she'll be what anchors are supposed to be: a confident, comforting presence at the electronic hearth, directing coverage with a steady hand.
This is not just an opportunity for Couric to reinvigorate a long-moribund CBS News; it's a chance for her to reignite her career.
A similar opportunity awaits Meredith Vieira when she joins Matt Lauer on Today. Despite its dominance in the morning-news wars, Today has long been a tumultuous place.
A revolving door of executives and an increasingly restless Couric did not a happy workplace make. During the negotiations process, Vieira has spent a fair amount of time with Lauer, a rare bird among A-list news talent who, like Vieira, is at home in his own skin. Look for a pretty seamless transition that will help calm Today internally and likely draw new viewers.
Ironically, the same sniping about Couric's journalistic chops that greeted her leap to evening news is now being leveled at Vieira over her move to morning news. Vieira's detractors think she doesn't have the stuff just because she's had a ball the last several years being funny, human and alive on The View and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
They're wrong. Like Couric, she is smart, quick and one of the best at live interviewing. Her comfort level is high, whether she's going head-to-head with a head chef or a head of state.
To be honest, when Vieira's name first surfaced on NBC's list to replace Couric, I didn't believe she'd make the move.
In the past, she has turned down some serious money to do the same job at Good Morning America and The Early Show. As her pals have noted, she's made millions from gigs that haven't required much heavy lifting and gave her plenty of time for her husband and three kids.
But I underestimated the allure of having the chance to be reborn professionally atop an iconic institution like Today. Sure, NBC backed up the Brinks Truck to pay Vieira—easily north of $10 million a year.
But, as is the case with Couric's bold move, this is an opportunity for Vieira to turbo-charge her professional life—not to mention a chance to prove a lot of powerful people wrong.
That's one heady drug, to which you just don't say no.
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