NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- A melodrama of Shakespearian proportions is being played out in the broadcasting world, centering on the intrigue surrounding -- who else? -- Katie Couric, the $15 Million Broadcaster.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal this past week, Couric is on her way out of the ratings fiasco known as the "CBS Evening News" and getting ready to replace Larry King on CNN.
Of course, any number of CBS employees would happily help her pack, but what's especially interesting is that the move would carry CNN's tacit approval.
After all, the New York Times recently reported that CBS was considering outsourcing some of its news operations to Time Warner's CNN. Another suggestion floated by TV Guide and others is that Couric's prospective successor might be Anderson Cooper, one of CNN's brightest stars.
You gotta love the media business!
A smart move
Understand, nothing is remotely official yet. Still, I believe these changes will ultimately happen because they make a lot of sense.
At CBS, Couric's ratings have badly trailed those of NBC's Brian Williams and ABC's Charles Gibson for almost all of her 19-month tenure.
CNN's King is one of the most identifiable names in cable television, but as skeptics suggest, he's lost a few miles off his fastball lately during his hour-long broadcasts. He still remains a big name, though, and could likely latch on somewhere else without too much trouble.
For CBS, Couric and CNN, however, this process would be a win-win-win.
The key is for CNN to ease out King, whose contract is slated to expire in 2009. That may not be easy because he clearly loves his job. Of course, King could be persuaded to accept a buyout if CNN made it plain that his contract wouldn't be extended. He could then use the next year or so to find a new TV gig.
Once King is out of the equation, CNN could work on wooing Couric, who most likely wouldn't join CNN until the path is clear. She wouldn't want to be viewed as the selfish, younger broadcaster who forced the warhorse King to limp off to the sidelines. In the no-holds-barred television world, there's a very fine line between shrewd and opportunistic.
Thus, the drama shifts to CBS.
The ex-Tiffany Network would love Couric to break her contract and bolt to CNN -- or al-Jazeera, for that matter. It wouldn't have to pay all that dough to keep her in the anchor spot until 2011.
Also, fairly or not, Couric has gotten a reputation in New York media circles as a royal pain in the neck. Morale might jump if she left CBS, giving its staff a chance to begin a new, hopeful chapter with a new, hopeful anchor.
CBS could then replace her with a seasoned TV news pro -- someone like Scott Pelley, Russ Mitchell or Diane Sawyer -- who would fit very comfortably in an anchor's chair.
If you believe everything you read, you can probably assume the Couric saga is complete with backstabbing, deceit, Watergate-worthy non-denial denials, betrayal -- and a 21st century phenomenon that the Bard or King Lear himself never had to worry about: the high art of damage control.
We live in a media-saturated world where "saving face" is right after "succeeding" on the list of a celebrity's paramount goals. As the old Wall Street saying goes, in times of crisis, always blame the person who isn't in the room.
So CBS can fault Couric (behind her back, naturally) for failing to deliver the ratings it expected when it made the bold move of hiring a woman from the "Today" show in the severe role of evening-news anchor.
Couric (or her well-paid handlers) can turn around and say she was the victim of bungling from the start by CBS. She could whisper that the network made numerous gaffes in her name, such as when the network released photos of a photographically enhanced Couric and when it executed a rather heavy-handed PR srategy in the beginning, plastering her face on every New York City bus. (Whenever I missed the bus, I'd mutter about Katie and her smiling face.)
King, who would feel so injured that he could actually talk on the record with impunity, could rail about CNN's disloyalty and curse its willingness to treat one of its two biggest stars (Lou Dobbs is the other) so callously.
Meanwhile, CNN, the self-proclaimed Most Trusted Name in News, would be so preoccupied with the task of churning out glowing press releases about Couric that it might not even hear him.
: If Katie Couric takes Larry King's spot on CNN, would you consider her to be conniving or opportunistic?
: It was a big news week in the media universe, with the intrigue surrounding the fates of Yahoo , Katie Couric and Larry King. Overlooked, perhaps, was the passing of one of journalism's unsung heroes, Bob Greene, who died last Thursday after a long illness at the age of 78. He was a trailblazing investigative reporter for Newsday who helped lift the paper's prominence. "Bob was a reporter, a teacher and a skilled tactician whose investigative zeal changed laws, exposed wrongs and improved the lives of millions of Long Islanders," said Newsday Editor John Mancini.
to speculating that Katie Couric may soon leave CBS:
"Wherever Katie goes, I'll follow!"
-- Dave Clark
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By Jon Friedman