With Katie Couric reportedly eyeing the exit, the third-place CBS Evening News seems prepared to move in a different direction. The New York Times reports that 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley is in line to take over the anchor’s seat should Couric depart when her contract expires this summer. Though CBS reiterated that they’re still negotiating with Couric and declined to comment on the speculation, CBS’s Harry Smith and Russ Mitchell, and CNN’s Anderson Cooper have been mentioned along with Pelley as her possible successors.
Pelley, who’s worked his way up at CBS by reporting from some of the hairiest hot spots on the globe, has the credibility to step right in and do the job. But does he really want it? Or need it? As the Times points out, the Evening News spot isn’t what it used to be, a notion that would’ve been blasphemous a generation ago when Walter Cronkite was wrapping up his reign behind the desk. Certainly, the three major networks’ newscasts still drive the daily news narrative, but with 24-hour cable and the Internet, the anchor’s influence is increasingly diminished. The only time the country seems to give the Big Three its full attention is during important political elections, and even then, they’ve got competition.
It’s not unlike what’s occurred in late-night entertainment. The Tonight Show was the crown jewel in the days when Johnny Carson ruled, but his old kingdom has been subdivided and subdivided again into demographic fiefdoms. The same thing has gradually happened to network news. Did Couric’s cultural impact increase or decrease after she joined CBS? (That you can even debate the question illustrates the changed landscape.)
At the end of the day, if CBS offers Pelley the job, he probably jumps. There’s no denying it would raise his profile more than a dozen Peabody wins for his work on 60 Minutes. But will he feel chained to the desk? One couldn’t help notice how refreshed Couric appeared on the daytime talks shows when she was promoting her new book. She’s extending her brand, too, with a documentary on obesity, according to Deadline. Prestige is nice, but journalistic relevance comes in all shapes and sizes in 2011.
How many times do you watch the evening news each week? Do you care who’s behind the desk? Is there anyone out there who you would make the effort to watch every night if he or she were the anchor?