Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Katie Couric, Savior, Or So We're Led To Believe

But Is The Queen Of The Morning The One To Lead CBS To Ratings Glory In The Evening?
Don't get me wrong, I don't envy those who wake up in the middle of the night to go to work so we can get the news over our coffee and Special K. Been there, done that.
It's a tough gig, not just because you're dog tired, but because so much money is at stake. Morning drive is when many radio stations pay most of their bills, while on TV the news keeps starting earlier, because the audience keeps getting bigger and more lucrative.
Which is why Katie Couric is such a big deal. "Today" brings in an estimated $250 million in profit for NBC, its biggest cash cow. That Couric has been at the helm while the show has been number one for over a decade can be chalked up to more than just coincidence, and is why she rakes in at least $15 million a year.
It's also why NBC is willing to throw a few million more to keep her from bolting to CBS, where she can chuck her alarm clock and watch the morning shows instead of being watched. Bill Carter, Howie Kurtz, et al. are reporting today that Couric to CBS is all but a done deal, and NBC has graciously thrown in the towel.
For the Couric investment to pay off, CBS needs to siphon off not only viewers from NBC, ABC and the cable newsies, but also attract new viewers who've long since stopped sampling the evening news or never have in the first place.
The universe of viewers at that hour keeps shrinking, in large part because so many of them are dying off (the average viewer is in the neighborhood of 60) and not being replaced by younger stock.
In the end, she is the steward of a news broadcast that, despite a change in anchor and an executive producer loaded with vision and news smarts, still isn't markedly different than its brethren.
It will be for the better if Couric is given a role in changing that, not to mention using her wattage to get the big gets not only for the Evening News, but for "60 Minutes," where she'll no doubt do some moonlighting.
As long as Les Moonves, puts some more money in the news division budget to pay for Couric, rather than siphon money from other resources, the habitues of the CBS Broadcast Center will be living in most interesting times.
Over at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, all eyes then turn to the chair next to Matt (now I finally get top billing) Lauer. Once again, we cast our vote unequivocally for the newly betrothed Campbell Brown (Mazel tov).
Natalie Morales gets the close-second consolation prize, playing an active role as newsreader/substitute host, with Ann Curry moving full-time to Dateline, where she can actually do some reporting -- a role she's often excelled at.
As for Meredith Vieira taking the gig and reportedly giving it serious consideration, says USA Today: Still don't see it happening. "The View" is too lucrative and cushy a job as there is in TV, while she's under contract to host "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" for another year.
Morning news queen and game-show host don't appear to go hand in hand nowadays, even if there's precedent with the likes of Hugh Downs doing double duty on "Today" and "Concentration." Different time and situation.
With Brown, you already have a proven entity -- through her "Weekend Today" and fill-ins on "Today" and "NBC Nightly News." You don't really need to sell the audience on her.
No question, Vieira has plenty of news chops from her CBS days -- even if they've been in storage for the better part of a decade -- and she could certainly handle her share of fluff pieces in her sleep.
Which is where we started. Does a 52-year-old mother of three teenagers really want to drag herself out of bed to appear on a program where the spotlight will never glare brighter and her every move and miscue will be parsed for signs of weakness?
In the end, Vieira -- assuming she gets a job offer from Jeff Zucker -- may well decide it's simply better to collect a fat check serving as a referee for Joy Behar and Star Reynolds and asking some egghead if he wants to use his final lifeline to phone a friend.

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