Maybe Katie Couric won't be the anchor of the CBS Evening News until 2011. According to news reports, she'll be gone soon after the presidential inauguration in 2009. CBS said it had “no plans” to ice Couric, and the anchor's own representative quoted her saying she is “having fun” and that she's “very proud of the show we put on every day.” She lauded her colleagues for their commitment.
There may be truth-stretching in what both sides have said. We'll see. But we are fairly certain Couric, despite making $15 million a year, is not having much fun presiding over a newscast that at its low point attracted just 5 million viewers a night.
It's notched up and now CBS averages around 6.7 million viewers, but that's at least a couple million fewer than either ABC or NBC (and a little less than Bob Schieffer, the Mr. In-Between after Dan Rather, used to get before Couric came on board in 2006).
At NBC and Today, Couric was a hot ticket. At CBS, she's a problem. That's because she is miscast. At Today, there was a serious side to Couric, but there was the chatty, exuberant, funny side, too. Chatty doesn't work on the Evening News; they tried it at first, but you can't be very conversational in a half-hour newscast. The alternative doesn't fit her. She looks like she's pretending to be authoritative.
Leslie Moonves, the chief executive officer at CBS, stuck his neck out to get Couric and predicted that not only would she keep the audience CBS had, but would attract a new, younger audience, too. Maybe she got some of those younger viewers, but she lost a lot of older viewers and others who couldn't see her as the right choice to lead the CBS Evening News, the signature broadcast of the hallowed house that Murrow built.
All of the newscasts are losing viewers compared to the days when the evening news was just about all the TV news you were going to get. To suppose Katie Couric could attract new viewers was a flawed notion, unless CBS was also going to find a way to get a few million more news-hungry people home at 6:30 Eastern every night.
Sean McManus, the upbeat president of CBS News and Sports, has said that someday, Couric and the Evening News will shine so brightly on some news story that the nation will come to its senses. It hasn't happened yet, not by a long shot, though on a nightly basis, the Evening News rises to compete with the NBC Nightly News or ABC World News. There's nothing so wrong with it; there was nothing wrong with it when Rather anchored it either, and most of the time he was also last in the Nielsens.
But for all the character Couric has, in her effort to be serious she's erased her own personality entirely. Things aren't going to get better. Last week's Couric story may have been premature in a way that borders on wishful thinking. It would be best, for Couric and CBS News, to begin to acknowledge this marriage can't be saved.