CBS affiliates were largely non-plussed by Katie Couric's announcement Tuesday that she'll leave CBS Evening News when her contract ends June 4, while some lamented an unconverted opportunity to score big in the time slot.
Couric's debut on CBS in September 2006 was accompanied by tremendous interest among the general population, and commensurate ratings, and some affiliates felt the network could've done a better job turning the giant sampling into robust regular ratings.
"We judge success based on ratings growth," says Kirk Black, senior VP and general manager at Meredith's WGCL Atlanta and a member of the CBS affiliates board. "I feel like it was a missed opportunity--we didn't capitalize on the very high ratings out of the gate. For whatever reason, we weren't able to turn the sample into enough regular viewers to move the needle."
Evening News remains stuck in third place. Earlier this month, Couric laid some of the blame for the newscast's weak performance on the affiliates in a New York Times Magazine interview. "I think that local news stations have something to do with it," she said. "Some people have said that local news is really important in terms of lead-ins."
CBS affiliates do not hold much inventory in Evening News, but the program is a vital bridge between a station's local news and access programming. Some affiliates said they're much more concerned with the ailing The Early Show than Evening News, though some at the station level say the morning program has improved since January's talent shakeup.
CBS affiliates board chairman Wayne Daugherty said Couric's run in the anchor chair was neither a disaster nor a big success. "We all hoped it would be better than it was, but at the same time, we all supported the decision [to hire Couric]," he says. "We thought it was a good plan."
Daugherty says he has confidence in CBS News-and new News chairman Jeff Fager-making the right changes post-Couric to poise the newscast for success. "Jeff is a great addition to the news team," he says. "I'm sure CBS will make the very best choice [for anchor] that they know how."
Multiple affiliates said they hoped CBS News would take some of the major money allotted to a star anchor (Couric makes a reported $15 million annually), and spread it out to get more newsgathering resources on the streets. "I don't think any talent is worth that kind of money," said one GM who asked not to be named. "I'd rather they spend it on content collection."
Scott Pelley has been rumored to be Couric's successor, but CBS affiliates have not heard his name in any official statement from the network. Couric's next move is unknown, and intensely speculated upon.
Affiliates salute the veteran anchor for her consistent performance on Evening News for close to five years. "Personally, I like Katie," says Bob Bunch, vice president and general manager at KWTX Waco. "I thought CBS gave it a good run. I'm interested to see what's next."