Monday, July 09, 2007

Katie Couric: This Anchor is Sinking

CBS executives are adamantly denying it, but there's a growing sentiment within the network that anchor woman Katie Couric is a very expensive, highly unfortunate and extremely embarrassing mistake. People just aren’t tuning in and Couric’s future on the network looks bleak.
Couric was a perfect fit for the Today Show on NBC. She was fun and perky, something folks covet early in the morning before they’ve had their coffee. She was really adept at talking to chefs doing recipes for gourmet macaroni and cheese or the guy who grew the biggest pumpkin each October. Her interviews with 13-year-old spelling bee champs and the latest Miss Universe were some of the best thing on morning television. But, when it comes to hard news, for some reason viewers don’t take Katie seriously.
The current situation has become so tenuous that Couric - the first woman to anchor a network nightly newscast by herself – could very likely flee from the CBS Evening News to assume another role at the network, probably after the 2008 presidential elections, CBS sources say.
Despite Couric’s A-list celebrity, her $15 million salary, and an enormous amount of promotion, the former star of NBC's Today has failed to improve the #3 Nielsen rating that the CBS Evening News had when she started nearly 11 months ago.
In a bottom-line business like television, that's a mortal sin. Already-low morale in the news division is dropping precipitously, according to a veteran correspondent at the network.
"It's a disaster. Everybody knows it's not working. CBS may not cut her loose, but I guarantee you, somebody's thinking about it. We're all hunkered down, waiting for the other shoe to drop."
Couric and CBS were a bad fit from the start.
"From the moment she walked in here, she held herself above everybody else," says a CBS staffer. "We had to live up to her standards. . . . CBS has never dealt in this realm of celebrity before."
Media experts predict Couric's ratings won't improve anytime soon, given that news viewers tend to be older and averse to change.
Couric, 50, draws fewer viewers than did avuncular "interim" anchor Bob Schieffer, 20 years her senior. Much of the feature-oriented format she debuted with is gone, as is her first executive producer, Rome Hartman.
"The broadcast is an abject failure, by any measure," says Rich Hanley, director of graduate programs at the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University.
"They gambled that viewers wanted a softer, less-dramatic presentation of the news, and they lost. It's not fair to blame Couric for everything, but she's certainly the centerpiece and deserves a fair share."
CBS Evening News this season averages 7.319 million total viewers, down 5 percent from the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Couric's viewership has dropped nearly 30 percent since her Sept. 5 premiere week, when she averaged an inflated 10.2 million viewers and led CBS News to its first Nielsen win since June 2001.
In separate interviews, CBS News president Sean McManus and Evening News executive producer Rick Kaplan vehemently deny that Couric's future as anchor of the broadcast is in peril.
Couric "is the current anchor and the anchor of the future," McManus says. "Everyone at the network, from my boss [CBS Corp. president and chief executive Leslie Moonves] on down, is 100 percent behind her."
Others say CBS is in denial. "It's over. The only one who doesn't know it is CBS," says an executive at a rival network.
To bolster its argument, CBS points to Couric's attracting 6 percent more 18-to-49-year-old women than a year ago, while ABC and NBC are down sharply in those categories.
NBC Nightly News, with Brian Williams, is No. 1 this season with an average of 9.004 million total viewers (down 6 percent). Charlie Gibson's ABC World News has 8.739 million (up 2 percent).
Some predicted that Couric was destined to fail in her new position.
For starters, the 6:30 p.m. news and Today call for totally different skill sets. And those sets are not easily transferable.
Couric's effervescent personality and expertise with live interviews and ad-libs were perfect for morning TV, particularly over a leisurely two hours.
On a 30-minute evening newscast, however, what's required is the ability to read the TelePrompTer and not display too much emotion.
"I guess the evening news isn't ready for the morning news," quips Robert Lichter, president of Washington's Center for Media and Public Affairs.
Or, in the words of an NBC producer, "it's like asking a centerfielder to pitch. It's the same game, but requires totally different skills."

1 comment:

Dan Rather said...

Coruic should leave the news game to the men!