Heirs to the Throne? - Broadcasting & Cable

Heirs to the Throne?

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Another story making the rounds is that NBC lawyers have told Couric's
agent, CAA's Alan Berger, “not to put us through hoops” in the hopes of
getting NBC to pony up more if Couric doesn't really plan to stay.

NBC's decision to tap Nightly News
anchor Brian Williams to host the Winter Olympics ceremonies only further
cemented the probability that “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric” will be
a reality come September.

The news-talent speculation game is nothing new. But with talk of who
might succeed Couric already rampant, it's clear that the bench of big-name
players is shallow.

Among the names bandied about, Weekend
Today
anchor Campbell Brown, Dateline:
NBC
co-anchor Ann Curry, and MSNBC anchor Natalie Morales all seem,
at best, long-shots. Indeed, corridor conversation at the National Association
of Television Programming Executives confab in Las Vegas last month had it that
the network was looking outside for Couric's replacement.

Quick on the heels of that buzz, former ABC News broadcaster Meredith
Vieira's name was floated as being high on NBC's wish list. Vieira did
little to dispel those rumors in interviews.

Her agent, Michael Glantz, president of Headline Management, joked to
reporters that anyone writing about the speculation should feel free to give
NBC his number. (Vieira's contract with ABC for The
View
and Who Wants To Be a
Millionaire
is coming due, so she'll likely enjoy some public
flirting.)

Vieira came close to making a similar move in 2002 when CBS News was
backing up the Brinks truck to get her to come aboard. Instead, she
renegotiated a lucrative deal for The View
and signed on as host of the syndicated version of Millionaire.

Add to that her spots for Bayer Aspirin, and it's doubtful she'll
want to leave a gig that brings her millions and requires none of the heavy
lifting that Today would demand.

Vieira is an extremely talented broadcaster, but she's been out of the
news business since departing ABC News in the mid '90s. That she tops the
list of unlikely dream candidates for replacing Couric only illustrates how
little A-list talent there is in the industry.

Network executives say they have no choice but to pursue, checkbooks in
hand, the few household names who will actually draw eyeballs to screens.

New CBS News President Sean McManus' recent comments that its flagship
newscast needed a “prominent” name underscores the mindset that dominates
the news arena.

But maybe that conventional wisdom needs a once over. Remember, when
Katie Couric started on Today, she stepped
virtually out of nowhere into a show that was rife with discord after Jane
Pauley's replacement, Deborah Norville, was ditched amidst a public-relations
disaster.

Today co-host Matt Lauer, whose
popularity at this point may exceed Couric's, was a little-known local-news
guy when he joined the NBC family in 1994.

If Couric were to skate, NBC might consider doing what it did out of
desperation nine years ago: take a relative no-name with a spark of reportorial
acumen and the charisma to connect with viewers and promote the hell out of
her.

With all the talk inside NBC—and out—you'd think it was a done
deal that Today show host Katie Couric will
bolt the network for the anchor chair at the CBS
Evening News
. Word inside 30 Rock is that she's already had
“hypothetical what if” conversations with key NBC News staffers about
coming along for the ride if she leaves the network when her contract is up in
May.

E-mail comments to
bcrobins@reedbusiness.com

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