Ken Tucker on Katie’s move to CBS
The news that Katie Couric will anchor The CBS Evening News can’t help but inspire mixed feelings. Foremost among these, some might say, would be, ”Who cares? Who watches the nightly network news anyway?” Well, millions do — millions more, in fact, than those who watch Whoever Your Favorite Commentator Is on cable’s Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC. Granted, the nightly news shows skew older than your average Entertainment Weekly reader, but who among us, at the very least in a time of crisis (a terrorist attack, the death of a statesman, a natural disaster), does not compulsively tune in to ABC, CBS, or NBC to get the official, most objective information on the breaking news?
The first rap against Couric is that she’s a lightweight — too many years spent grinning at celebs on Today. The second is that she’s an egomaniacal autocrat — an image that was set in media stone not because of any closely sourced, reported behavior, but because of a commentary piece a while back by New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley, who described Today staffers lurching back into their offices in fear upon hearing the sound of Couric’s ”clickety” stiletto heels in the NBC hallways. Rarely has a piece of vivid imagery taken on the weight of truth — people seem to forget that Stanley was creating a comic metaphor for Couric’s supposedly fearsome authority; the Times-er wasn’t present when any such thing occurred.
To these criticisms, I say, Oh, get a grip. Couric has co-anchored Today with Matt Lauer through all sorts of national emergencies and emerged an intelligent TV host who can ask quick follow-up questions. And that’s all you need to anchor the evening news. For all of Dan Rather’s trench-coat-and-shoe-leather self-mythologizing as a tough reporter, he spent most of his time behind the anchor desk reading copy, just like all the other anchors. You never hear about a TV anchor doing investigative reporting or breaking a story: An anchor ”delivers” the news, as they say, and Couric has over the years developed the proper furrowed-brow seriousness to carry on this function. As for being demanding — well, let’s all sigh: Isn’t that what they always say about a woman, and not about a man? Couldn’t the New York Times just as easily have written about staffers hiding when they heard the tromp of Rather’s expensive brogans, lest they be submitted to a minutes-long conversation peppered with surreal Texas metaphors about how the day is so hot, the toads are hoppin’ into Granny’s apron pockets?
So, Katie will do just fine, I’m betting. But her performance aside, Will They Come — that is, will viewers (and the network hopes they’ll be some younger ones) tune in? I’d wager her takeover won’t send ratings plumetting; there will be the intitial curiosity factor that will first boost ratings, then a dip, then a leveling off. If the CBS producers can surround Couric with the same staff of solid reporters current anchor Bob Scheiffer deploys, there’s no reason she won’t hold her own against NBC’s Brian Williams and ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas and (best wishes for his full recovery) Bob Woodruff.
Just as interestingly, how will Today‘s likely Katie replacement, Meredith Viera, fare? Probably very well — after all, she came from a harder-news background than Couric initially did, and after years of playing ringmaster to those rowdy View gals, yukking it up with Matt and Al and Ann is going to seem like a dream… that is, if she can wake up from her own dreams at such an early hour every morning.