Couric Bolts from 'Today' for CBS Anchor Job
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The nightly network newscasts have been called dinosaurs by many, said to be irrelevant for the internet age. Well don't tell that to Katie Couric. She's made more money than any other American journalist by leading NBC's Today Show to years of rating dominance. Now Couric has finally confirmed she'll leap to rival CBS News to take the evening anchor's job once held by Walter Cronkite. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Katie Couric told Today Show viewers this morning she'll leave the gentler confines of morning television to become the chief anchor of the CBS Evening News.
KATIE COURIC: After listening to my heart and my gut, two things that have served me pretty well in the past, I've decided I'll be leaving Today at the end of May. It was really a very difficult decision for a lot...
FOLKENFLIK: She's expected to start at CBS in September. Over 15 years at the Today Show, Couric covered weighty matters as when she pinned down Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole about tobacco a decade ago.
COURIC: I guess what I'm trying to say Senator, is some people think from your comments that you've made of late, that you're being an apologist for the tobacco industry? Somehow they you...
BOB DOLE: I think only people like you, only people like you in the media deliberately always biased to the Democratic Party.
COURIC: In 1992 I know...
FOLKENFLIK: And Today also required a lighter touch from Couric. Tabloid crime stories, cooking segments and celebrity interviews, such as this one with movie star Antonio Banderas earlier this week.
COURIC: Also, Antonio, you love to dance and you're a magnificent dancer. You did a great job. No you did on Broadway and...
FOLKENFLIK: The morning shows are where the big profits are, but prestige, that's found in the nightly news casts. Once the home of such broadcast luminaries such as Cronkite on CBS, Tom Brokaw on NBC, and the late Peter Jennings on ABC News. Former CBS News Executive Vice President Ed Fouhy says Couric has been well prepared for her new role.
Mr. ED FOUHY (Former CBS News Executive Vice President) She's a very intelligent woman. She doesn't have to introduce herself to most of the audience. She made her bones as a reporter 15 or 20 years ago, so I think she'll do just fine.
FOLKENFLIK: The CBS Evening News trailed far behind NBC and ABC in recent years. Anchor Dan Rather left ahead of schedule after his botched story on President Bush's military service record back in the fall of 2004. But has Fouhy notes, ratings have rebounded under interim anchor Bob Schieffer and it's closing in on ABC News.
FOUHY: Well, it's certainly peeled away some of the lighter, fluffier pieces that were appearing. There's kind of a plain talk to Schieffer, a rather comforting experienced presence. He's certainly fit into that role just as easily as you might fit into an old shoe.
FOLKENFLIK: But Schieffer says he didn't want the job permanently, and he's two decades older than Couric, who's 49.
Television analyst Andrew Tyndall says CBS CEO Les Moonves wanted a younger figure, someone with star power to revive the network after the Rather Scandal.
ANDREW TYNDALL: The reaction to the crisis was a classic reaction of someone who comes from show business not from journalism, which is, let's throw money at a superstar in order to bail us out of this jam.
FOLKENFLIK: From Couric's standpoint, however, it's not just about the money. Though she will make roughly $15 million a year for five years. She was already paid about the same amount at NBC, and could've made still more by staying at the Today Show. Tyndall has done consulting work for all three major networks, and in this case he said CBS is mistaken to sink so much money into Couric when Schieffer has done so well, and when CBS is trying to enter the multimedia age.
TYNDALL: If your future is producing audiovisual news that could fit on any medium, not just television medium, but on your cell phone, or on your computer, or on your PlayStation or whatever, it's a backward-looking move to spend the money on an anchor.
FOLKENFLIK: Nonetheless, Tyndall dismisses criticism Couric is not serious enough for the job. NBC anchors Tom Brokaw and John Chancellor both served as hosts on Today. Even Edward R. Murrow did celebrity interviews. NBC has not yet named who would team with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, although the network is negotiations with Meredith Vieira of the syndicated show The View. There's a lot at stake. ABC News hopes its Good Morning America can overtake the Today Show once Couric has left NBC. David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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