Less than one year into their little experiment, it's become dreadfully obvious that installing Katie Couric as anchor of the CBS Evening News was the worst idea in broadcasting since ABC tried to make a team out of Barbara Walters and the late Harry Reasoner.
Of course, the Reasoner-Walters broadcast was quickly dispatched to the ash heap of broadcast history, eventually replaced by a multiple-anchor format called World News Tonight, which eventually morphed into World News with Charles Gibson. Over the last two decades, with Mr. Gibson in the anchor chair (and before that, the late Peter Jennings),
ABC's broadcast has ranked consistently as #1 or #2 in the evening news ratings, proving that you can salvage something from a TV news disaster, with a little time, patience--and selection of the right anchor talent.
Of course, the jury's still out on the Evening News and Ms. Couric. That's not a particularly earth-shattering revelation, but for some reason, New York magazine believes that Katie's travails are worthy of a 7,000-word cover story in its latest issue. Perhaps it was because the beleaguered CBS anchor agreed to an interview with writer Joe Hagan; or maybe it was the willingness of some network staffers to dish more dirt on the broadcast and their "managing editor." Reading it all--so you don't have to--it becomes painfully clear that there are lots of unhappy campers on the Evening News set.
While much of the article reads like a re-hash of other items on Couric and the Evening News, there are a few nuggets which only affirm that CBS hired the "wrong" woman. Drudge had a link to the supposed shocker, an alleged "slapping" incident where Couric repeatedly struck an editor on the arm for using a word--sputum--that she didn't like.
That may be a first for broadcast TV; we certainly don't recall Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley banning words that didn't violate broadcast standards for decency. In fact, the only serious beef that Mr. Huntley and his partner, David Brinkley, had with their scripts was the broadcast's quaint ending: "Good Night, Chet, Good Night David, and Good Night for NBC News." "Makes us sound like a couple of fags," they complained. Yes, Virginia, one upon a time, television news was politically incorrect.
But in the Couric era, we found a couple of other anecdotes more revealing, suggesting why she doesn't connect with viewers on the Evening News. Appearing at a celebrity bowling fund-raiser for cancer research, the CBS anchor hails a slimmed-down Whoopi Goldberg: “Call me, woman!” says Couric, making a phone gesture with her thumb and pinkie. “Now that you’re all skinny and shit!” In these most consequential of times, Americans can sleep well, knowing that CBS's #1 news-reader is "down with it." And, if that weren't enough, Mr. Hagan reports in the following paragraph that Couric's cell phone ring tone was recently identified as the Pussycat Dolls “Don’t Cha (Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me).”
Obviously, Ms. Couric is free to associate with any B-list celebrity of her choosing, and she can download as many ring tones as her Blackberry will hold. But such incidents also suggest an CBS anchor that's a little too comfortable with the culture of celebrity and popular entertainment. Perhaps it's a reflection of all those years on the Today show, where she expertly segued between cooking segments and celebrity interviews.
Or perhaps (as Mr. Hagan seems to suggest), it's her privileged past and surprisingly narrow life experiences, which have taken Ms. Couric from sorority sister at the University of Virginia, to a local news reporting job (at WRC-TV in Washington), followed by a quick transition to network stardom, all before the age of 30. Despite her new-found "seriousness" on the Evening News, Couric's resume is surprisingly devoid of hard news and overseas reporting, once considered prerequisites for a network anchor chair.
Is Ms. Couric out of touch? At one point, she tells Hagan that she once visualized the "typical" Today show viewer as a "32-year-old attorney with one child." Probably a UVA law grad at that. Apparently, she couldn't conjure up the image of a stay-at-home mom or a blue-collar worker in her audience. Now, Hagan tells us, Couric is unable to "visualize" a typical member of the Evening News audience. Sounds like someone who's spent too much time in the salons of Manhattan and Washington, D.C. And she wonders why all those viewers out in "Jesusland" aren't flocking to her CBS broadcast?
It will come as no surprise, but Hagan doesn't mention another, key reason that Couric is losing viewers: liberal bias. Pay a visit to MRC.org, and you'll find countless examples of her leftist bent, dating back to Katie's early career on Today. Conservative viewers saw her move to CBS as simply another liberal anchor in a different forum, and didn't even bother to watch her "new" broadcast.
That downward spiral will only continue, as the broadcast dinosaurs fight for an ever-shrinking share of the audience. As a result, Ms. Couric will likely earn the double, dubious distinction of being a failed evening anchor and one of the last "stars" to hold that post. With viewership for each of the network's evening news programs now below 10 million a night, CBS, NBC and ABC can't afford to pay someone $15 million a year to read the news.
Ironically, CBS might have successfully managed the anchor switch by hiring a woman--say, Diane Sawyer--who is more "experienced" (older), and more adept at mixing hard news and fluff. Instead, CBS opted for the (supposedly) hottest commodity in television, a woman who was clearly unsuited and unprepared for the vastly different arena of the evening news. The only question now is when CBS will admit that the Couric experiment was a ghastly failure, and pull the plug on the enterprise, once and for all.