Katie Couric Likely to Leave CBS Evening News After Election

Anchor in Discussions with CBS News President Sean McManus, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves on Potential New Role

Katie Couric is likely to leave the CBS Evening News chair sometime after the presidential election in November, two years before her lucrative contract expires.

Katie Couric

Discussions with top management including CBS News president Sean McManus and CBS CEO Leslie Moonves are under way to find a place for her at CBS News, including a spot on 60 Minutes or a syndicated talk show, but people with knowledge of the situation cautioned that a firm decision about Couric's future and a possible successor for her on the Evening News are not imminent.

Couric has made no secret of her frustration with her third-place status on the Evening News, as well as the broadcast’s constraining 22-minute format that does little to showcase the interview style that propelled her to TV-news stardom during 15 years on NBC’s Today.

“It's really hard to show that side of my personality on the evening news, and that's a frustration for me,” she told the Washington Post.

Couric took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News in September 2006 and, while the broadcast has languished in third for more than a decade, the program hit a new low last spring, sinking to 5.9 million viewers. This season, the show is averaging 6.7 million viewers behind NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams (9 million) and ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson (8.8 million).

The news of Couric's departure, which was first reported Wednesday night on The Wall Street Journal Web site, comes on the heels of a raft of layoffs including the axing of on-air talent at CBS News affiliates in several markets such as Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. CBS News eliminated a little over 1% of its work force via layoffs, attrition or by not filling open positions. The news division does not expect to cut any more jobs.

Couric’s contract, which expires in 2011, pays her $15 million per year -- the richest contract in television news by millions. It’s unclear how CBS News would amortize the cost of her contract if the anchor was shifted to 60 Minutes, where the work load is shared by a stable of correspondents.

Couric, 51, is only the latest candidate to be mentioned as a possible successor to CNN’s Larry King, who is 74 and nearing the end of his current contract. Speculation that Couric would replace King at the conclusion of his contract in 2009 was downplayed by those with knowledge of the situation.

“Larry King is a great talent who consistently delivers the highest-profile guests, and we have no plans to make a change,” CNN said in a statement to the WSJ.

If CBS executives cannot find an appropriate venue for Couric, they have indicated that they would release her from her contract. But people close to Couric stressed that Moonves has been consistently supportive of Couric and would like to keep her in the CBS family.