Monday, September 04, 2006

Katie Couric's new gig

There’s a film clip we use in THE 60’s PROJECT of Walter Cronkite announcing on CBS the death of President John Kennedy. And as I watched it recently, I wondered, how much more chilling and momentous would that moment have been if Katie Couric were delivering the announcement?

I have nothing against Katie Couric, quite enjoyed her on the TODAY SHOW, but I don’t think she has the street cred or the weight (although with an air brush they tried to correct that recently in the attached publicity photo) to hold down the position that Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow held with such esteem and public trust for so many years.

And what I find fascinating is all the hype. For the truth of the matter is this: Network newscasts are now irrelevant. There are so many other ways we can get our news now, from the internet, to 24 hour cable channels, even FOX News occasionally reports something that actually happened (last occurrence: 2004).

Will Katie Couric really save CBS News? No one can. If the goal was just upping the ratings for the Evening News keep Bob Schieffer. His numbers have gone up and he costs less than Katie’s hairdresser.

The real impact will be on the TODAY SHOW. That will take a big hit. Which is good news for the CBS Morning Show. It’s as if someone is watching out for Julie Chen.
But back to Katie and the surrounding hype.

In an effort to lure back viewers, she has been going around the country, holding town hall meetings, and learning what Joe Six Pack and Sally Dust Mop really want from their 6:30 national newscasts. Lo and behold, a shocking discovery has been unearthed.

People want to see positive things.

Ohmygod, who knew??? I hope that doesn’t mean if Katie were announcing Kennedy’s death she’d have to lead with: “Good news for the Johnson family today!”

And then Katie lets it slip that she wouldn’t go to dangerous hot spots because she’s a single mother with small children. I’m sorry, but the number one news anchor of CBS should not confine here worldwide reporting to only places Robin Leach would visit.

Sidebar: For the importance CBS places on its Evening News host, just look at the touching tribute they did for Dan Rather. Placed in the Friday-night-leading-into-a-holiday-weekend-death slot, in Los Angeles it was bumped to its sister station and in New York not even aired at all.

Charles Gibson was recently on with Charlie (“I’m smarter than all my guests”) Rose and was asked why network news shows were not attracting young viewers? His answer: the commercials. WTF??? They were catering to “81 year old men”, Mr. Gibson said. He would like to see some beer commercials on World News Tonight. Yeah, like THAT would solve the problem. If they want beer companies to advertise than just get Jimmy Kimmell to do the news. Or better yet, Canada's NAKED NUDES team. We've gone so far past the movie NETWORK that this last suggestion is only absurd because Americans might have trouble with the Canadian accents.

And who knows? Maybe one day we'll look back and Katie Couric WILL seem like Walter Cronkite.

This is Ken Levine
CBS News, my room.


Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Gatekeepers are becoming a thing of the past for news dissemination, thanks to technology.

I drove Rather around L.A. for a few hours when I was a gopher on the assignment desk at cbs in L.A. in '70. A fine fellow, but I'm rather glad that era is just about finished.

The Cult of Personality is replaced by the Cult of Technology and it's probably best for the rest of humanity.

...and we'll all be O.K. as long as Cheers stays in syndication to help us forget the day's disasters.


VP81955 said...

If Couric doesn't work, it will be seen as a failure for women anchors, which is nonsense. The trouble is that the women considered as anchor material tend to be hosts on entertainment-related programs and don't have a 100% hard news background. Had Kimberly Dozier not been severely hurt earlier this year, might she have gone up through the CBS ranks to get a plum Washington assignment -- Capitol Hill or the White House -- and then be deemed anchor material a la Schieffer? Tend to doubt it. (And I sense Dozier was perceived as much a CBS radio person as one for CBS TV, which would've been another strike against her.)

The Charlie Gibson comment leads to the question of whom do you tailor the news to -- everyone, or demographic groups advertisers want? That's probably behind the recent Natalee and JonBenet frenzies: they bring in non-professional women viewers. whom advertisers covet. If cable news eschewed such stories, far fewer women outside the educated class would watch. To these women, when it comes to news, I throw back a phrase the feminist movement has often tossed at men: You just don't get it.

Finally, while drug companies seem to dominate advertising on the evening news, hasn't it always been thus? I can remember in the sixties when Walter, Chet & David and even a young Peter Jennings were sponsored by the likes of Anacin and Bufferin.

Richard Cooper said...

I was lucky enough to spend an evening in the CBS News control room in NYC (as a college freshman) watching the production. "Uncle Walter" was editing the copy himself, wearing a sky blue sweater, until they gave him the 30 second warning--whereupon he stood up, exchanged his sweater for a suit jacket, sat back down under the lights and began reading the news exactly on cue. His cool gravitas has never been matched.

Anonymous said...

Way back in time, back before Katie was ever a gleam in Willard Scott's eye, she was my neighbor, and one of our babysitters. Many is the night we'd stay up until midnight when Mom and Dad were out at a movie or a party, and Katie would entertain my brother and I with stories about high school crushes, discussions about movies, TV or current events, or the occasional knowing handjob.

She's come a long way since then. Well- wait! No, she's just making more money, come to think of it.

Julie Goes to Hollywood said...

If she lacks street cred, maybe she should do like the future Mrs. Cruise and let the Scientologists change her name to Kate.

Frank Strovel III said...

It’s as if someone is watching out for Julie Chen...

tee hee hee...

Anonymous said...

Ken, when you constantly slam Fox News (even as a joke) it makes you seem... well... a little childish. They may lean to the right, true, but that doesn't mean they're not reporting the actual news. It's not like they're the "Weekly World News" reporting on alien babies!!

Anonymous said...

Couric doesn't have the gravitas of Cronkite, but neither do Brian Williams or Charles Gibson. As for "Today" being hurt - not so far. In fact, "Today" has slightly widened its lead over "Good Morning, America" this summer.

Also, many liberals feel they have to keep up the childish, nasty comments Fox News because they're very threatened about someone having a take on the news that is different from their own point of view. They've had the media to themselves for so long, and it's alarming to them that someone is able to slant the news to the right, rather than to the left, as they're used to. So, it's childish slams and character assasination aplenty.

Beverly Blvd said...

I just watched Katie. Boring. It didn't even look as though she was doing it live. Note to Katie, the thingy on the left of your chair lowers it. Try it. Also, enough with showing of the legs, you never saw Walter's legs.

By Ken Levine said...

Dear anonymous,

Childish is not giving your name. For the gazillionith time, anyone is welcome to criticize me as long as they are "grown up" enough to leave their name. Otherwise, I delete.

Anonymous said...

Like several extra millions, I assume, I clicked on Channel 2 to check out the Katie.

CBS is pulling out all stops. The new set is dynamic in depth and visuals. And the new hair style is going to lunch at the Ivy.

Bottom line - Katie is a pro. The format is US Today-friendly and the content seemed to be up to pre-Rather scandal standards.

So, I'll give her a big pass. Now I'm clicking on Bill O"Reilly. ;o)

Howard Hoffman said...

Wow. Anon is a consultant's dream. He/She loves the fluff, the hair and the pretty visuals...and they buy the Rather "scandal" (which never ever said what he reported was wrong - just that the docs were flawed).

If Fox News did daily updates of Bat Boy, I'd probably watch. Sadly, they're just a little too dishonest to do that.

VP81955 said...

Also, enough with showing of the legs, you never saw Walter's legs.

If I wanted to watch a newswoman's legs, I'd watch "Paula Zahn Now." Hers are better than Katie's (and she's a slightly more serious newsreader, too).

Anonymous said...

Saw parts of The Couric Show, too. What exactly was all that different about it and any other network evening news shows of the past 10 years or so? A little dumbed down for the dumbed down public? Yes. (Suri baby pictures, BFD)The segment with Friedman looked straight out of The Today Show, probably to make all those who miss here there feel right at home. The hard news segments were, by and large, okay.

I enjoyed Morgan Spurlock's commentary the most. I agree with him about most of the country being somewhere in the middle, and being tired of the extremists on both sides and the ugly rhetoric and rancor. (As also witnessed on this blog's comments page here, too)

To paraphrase the late, great Steve Allen, I consider myself a radical middle-of-the-road-er.

Dave Benson

branfordbob said...

To 'Anonymous' who said...
"...when you slam Fox makes you seem...a little childish. They may lean to the right,'s not like they're...reporting on alien babies!!"

Nah...that would be a step up!
Please! Fox News is an oxymoron.


alkali said...

There’s a film clip we use in THE 60’s PROJECT of Walter Cronkite announcing on CBS the death of President John Kennedy. And as I watched it recently, I wondered, how much more chilling and momentous would that moment have been if Katie Couric were delivering the announcement?

I would note, for what it's worth, that of people who learned about 9/11 from TV, the largest number were hearing it from Katie Couric. I know I did.

Anonymous said...

Doug Thompson said...

Hey Ken. Thanks for mentioning Canada. We here in the Great White North (Ko roo koo koo koo koo koo koo) are proud of our news alumni. Peter Jennings was born here and became the youngest Canadian TV network news anchor ever...Morley Safer and Robert McNeil of the former McNeil/Lehrer Report (you prounounce the 't' at the end on that one) are also Canucks who flew south for bigger ponds.

These days, we're just as proud of our Naked News casters. In fact, I think all newscasters should be THAT would 'up' the ratings (insert your own joke here).