Defying Gravitas

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As a wise colleague pointed out, if you don't want a different feel to the newscast, don't hire Katie Couric.

There was definitely a new feel to the CBS newscast Tuesday night. It was definitely more featurey and less newsy. It felt more like a news magazine, including the "point without counterpoint" from Morgan Spurlock and the effort at "news you can understand" perspective from NYT's Tom Friedman.

It was a canny move to launch a new segment called Free Speech, though it got an unfortunate unveiling with the explantion by Couric that "Free Speech" was something the broadcast hadn't had up until now. I knew what she meant, but the wording was unfortunate.

It was canny in that CBS is spearheading the challenge to the FCC's crackdown on broadcast speech, so hammering the point nightly is OK by me.

Couric seemed in command of the show as far as it went, but it did not go far enough into the day's news for me. The Tom Cruise baby picture plug for Vanity Fair seemed like a morning show or ET bit, though, again, CBS is trying for a different feel. CBS even tried to justify the baby photos by rolling a clip of a CBS News broadcast with Charles Collingwood from the kinescope days touting baby pictures of Prince Charles. The future king of England and tom Cruise's kid are both babies, but the news value is not analogous.

Since Couric brought up "first day of school clothes" on her blog, I will comment on her outfit. Lose it. That white coat–after Labor Day, no less–with the big button in the center made her look larger in the middle than she is, even without help from Photoshop and the CBS staff. It also looked like somebody had lent it to her because it was too chilly in the studio.

Walter Cronkite recording the intro was a classy touch, I thought, though it made me pine, briefly, for his days at the helm. Signing off was another matter.

Curmudgeon that I am, though still in the key 25-54 news demo, I think it was a mistake to do the whole "I don't know how to sign off" schtick at the end, including clips of sign-offs from faux anchors Ted Baxter and Ron Burgandy. It did not suggest seriousness or command of the desk, as it were, and raised the unfortunate comparison to people who were just playing at being news anchors.

That is my major concern. "Gravitas" doesn't mean you can't be lighthearted and familiar when the story calls for it, but you have to establish it first.

By John Eggerton

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