Katie Couric As Ready-for-Prime-Time Player

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Last night, CBS presented what it claimed was a first-time event in TV history: a prime-time evening newscast, presented as a special nighttime edition of The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. It was historic only as a precedent – but it’s easy to imagine it being followed, in time, by others.

The prime-time newscast itself, while featuring a few different interview and feature segments than the 6:30 p.m. ET edition, was similar in tone and content to the regular CBS evening newscast – the one that has finished in third place in its time slot for more than two years running. The lead story was the same, though there was minor updating to reflect the intervening 90 minutes.

 To younger viewers who rarely if ever tune to any evening newscast, this was an opportunity to stumble upon Katie Couric’s news anchor showcase and sample it. That’s not likely to lure many converts – seeing her interview Sarah Palin on YouTube was what raised both Couric’s profile and reputation in the previous year – but as a cost-savings measure and promotional platform, a prime-time news presence sure doesn’t hurt.

More than that, when ABC is devoting two hours of 20/20 tomorrow night for a special “Why Him? Why Her?” special on sexual attraction, having CBS give up prime time for actual news, rather than ratings-chasing nonsense, is difficult to criticize.

If, indeed, the future of prime-time TV means a Jay Leno talk show stripped in the closing hour and a network newscast stripped in the opening hour, there’s more reason to celebrate the latter than the former. Even if, by the time it’s recycled from the dinner-hour program, it’s old news.