Katie in Primetime


  Many have predicted the demise of the evening news broadcasts. They are becoming irrelevant in the wired world where news is available 24/7 and at the touch of a finger.But CBS News is doing their darnedest to swim against the inevitable tide. After a rocky start in 2006 for anchor Katie Couric and rampant rumors last spring that she would leave the third-place newscast less than halfway through her 5-year, $75 million deal, the network is working every angle to put her front and center.

She has her own YouTube channel, where she indulges her lighter side, she blogs, anchors a webcast - all in an effort to expose Couric to a new stream of viewers who are not watching a broadcast network at 6:30 p.m.

And next week she’ll get a chance to do her CBS Evening News routine in primetime. The newscast will get a one-time-only half hour of entertainment real estate at 8 p.m. on Jan. 28, pre-empting the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine.

The primetime special was part of a deal Sean McManus, president CBS News and CBS Sports, made with CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves that included Couric’s appearance during half-time of the AFC championship game on Jan. 18.

Couric presided over a three-minute news update that was seen by nearly 40 million viewers.

Moonves, said McManus, was “immediately onboard.”

McManus’ conceded that he doesn’t expect the Evening News to be a hit in primetime. Indeed, Couric will up against American Idol on Fox.

“It wasn’t done to achieve a big rating,” he said. “We figured it was a good thing to try. It’s just part of a continuing effort. It’s why we had her appear during the Super Bowl last year and it’s why we sent her to Iraq. Every time we’ve placed Katie in a high profile situation, she seems to really distinguish herself. So this was really an opportunity to do that again.”

But Couric will also get a crack at primetime that should yield bigger ratings when she hosts the network’s Grammy special Feb. 4 at 9 p.m. Katie Couric: All Access Grammy Special (shades of Barbara Walters’ Oscar puff pieces?) will feature Couric playing golf with Justin Timberlake and bowling with Lil Wayne. (Let’s hope she’s a better bowler than Barack Obama.)

And on Friday, CBS News announced that Couric would conduct the first interview with the man everyone has been trying to get: Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger, the hero US Airways pilot who executed a masterful water landing in the Hudson River last week that saved the lives of everyone onboard. Capt. Sullenberger will be joined by the crew of flight 1549. The interview will air on the Feb. 8 installment of 60 Minutes.

Expect monster tune-in.

Said McManus: “We’re trying to figure out more and more ways to expose Katie to as many people as possible.”