Her show has consistently trailed its counterparts at General Electric's NBC and Walt Disney's ABC. Whether Couric projected severity or used the breezier style that served her well as the co-host of NBC's "Today," she simply couldn't garner a significant audience for her nightly news broadcast.
For example, "CBS Evening News" wooed an average 5.9 million viewers in the week of March 31, compared to 8.3 million viewers for NBC's "Nightly News with Brian Williams" and 8 million for ABC's "World News with Charles Gibson," according to The Wall Street Journal.
Now, it appears, Couric will leave the anchor post before her contract expires in 2011, The Wall Street Journal noted. If the speculation is true, CBS shouldn't hesitate to announce that Scott Pelley will succeed her.
An ideal replacement
Pelley has been a top CBS reporter and a respected "60 Minutes" correspondent. He has the -- heaven help me -- gravitas for the anchor spot, known for displaying the straightforward narrative style of Brian Williams and Charles Gibson. Viewers want that from an evening-news anchor, and judging from the ratings debacle of "CBS Evening News," they haven't been getting it from Couric.
Pelley excelled when he covered President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. He also was on the scene in Iraq, at the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Branch Davidian standoff near Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Before CBS hired Couric in 2006, Pelley was regarded as one of the finalists for the job, along with John Roberts, who has since left CBS to join Time Warner's CNN as a co-host of its early-morning news show.
Of course, CBS could again take a nontraditional route if it has to replace Couric. There's no shortage of possible successors, including such well-known names as Diane Sawyer, co-host of "Good Morning America," and Lara Logan, who has made her mark at CBS by covering the war in Iraq. Plus, you can bet critics will be calling from successors ranging from Bob Schieffer, who acted as the bridge between Dan Rather and Couric, and even Comedy Central star Jon Stewart. Another worthy candidate for the job would be Russ Mitchell, another CBS News veteran.
This time, though, I believe CBS will stick to the script. There's just too much at stake for it to experiment again. The ratings battle among the television networks is as wide open as the 2008 presidential run.
Given the novelty factor alone, a fresh face at the CBS anchor desk could give the network an edge in the ratings war. If viewers like what they see in Pelley, they might stick around for the long run.
Taking Larry King's seat?
And whither Couric?
The Journal speculated that she may go on to replace Larry King on his popular CNN prime-time interview program. This is a fascinating scenario on many levels.
For a few years, CNN has toyed with the idea of replacing King. Although he's the network's most recognizable star, CNN is also under pressure to find a new host.
In the early 1990s, Phil Hartman routinely did a hilarious impersonation of King on "Saturday Night Live." Sadly, King now occasionally resembles that caricature. He stands out among talk-show hosts as one who isn't always prepared to ask his guests tough questions, preferring instead to pursue sensational, gossipy angles.
The television world, especially on news shows, is all about having star power. Stars garner publicity, and publicity often translates into high ratings (though it certainly didn't do that for Couric on CBS).
Yes, Larry King is a big star and he has had a fabulous career. But Couric is an even bigger star. She may have been a bad fit for the "CBS Evening News," but she remains a TV icon. CNN would be ounting on that.
: Would you want to see Scott Pelley replace Katie Couric on the "CBS Evening News," and, in turn, Couric take over for Larry King on CNN?
: "CBS News, Katie Couric Are Likely to Part Ways" by Rebecca Dana (Wall Street Journal, April 10). . (The Journal, like MarketWatch, is owned by News Corp.)
to my on Couric. I wrote that people shouldn't judge her ratings flop at "CBS Evening News" as a failure. Here are two heartfelt views on the subject, one effusive and the other succinct:
"Excellent article! I have been a Couric fan since she debuted on the 'Today' show. I thought it was a mistake for her to try the CBS anchor position, but who could blame her for giving it a shot? Still, it was nice to see someone put the facts out there without dragging her through the mud as some like to do."
-- Rick Tindal
"She failed, and you're an idiot."
-- Ron D. Beal
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By Jon Friedman