Couric Confirms: She’s Headed for CBS

On
the 15th anniversary of her debut as co-anchor of NBC’s “Today” Show,
co-host Katie Couric announced she is leaving the show when her
contract expires at the end of May to “work on ‘CBS Evening News’ and
’60 Minutes.’”

 

“After listening to
my heart and gut, two things that have served me pretty well, I’ve
decided I’ll be leaving at the end of May,” Couric said. “Sometimes
I think change is a good thing,” Couric said. “Although it may be
terrifying to get out of your comfort zone, it’s also very exciting to
start a new chapter in your life.”

 

Couric joins Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters as “Today” show hosts who left the program to take over prime-time anchoring roles.

 

Couric will take
over the position that veteran correspondent Bob Schieffer has held on
a “temporary” basis for more than a year following the resignation of
anchorman Dan Rather. The CBS Web site this morning included a story containing this passage:

Schieffer himself has
made no secret of his desire to see Couric at CBS News. “She’s a great
interviewer, people know who she is, and she has enormous credibility.
People believe her. They take her seriously,” Schieffer recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “She’s also a very nice person to have around this place. She would make us a better news department,” he added.

So far this season, “CBS Evening News”
has averaged 7.7 million viewers, 200,000 more than at this point last
year, according to Nielsen Media Research. Meanwhile, “NBC Nightly
News” is down by 700,000 viewers, and ABC’s “World News Tonight” has
lost 900,000.

But by the end of the day, a new poll raised questions about public support for the move. AP reported:

Katie Couric is risking her television legacy to
leave NBC’s “Today” show and anchor the CBS evening news — as a new
poll shows that people would rather watch her in the morning.

Asked
if they prefer to see Couric in her longtime role as anchor of “Today”
or on the evening news, 49 percent chose mornings and 29 percent said
evening news, an AP/TV Guide poll found. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

Couric will (also) do four to five pieces a year for “60 Minutes.”
“60″ has only one regular female correspondent, Lesley Stahl, 64, and
the corps’ average age is 66.

Buzz on Couric’s CBS contract says it’s worth $39 million over three
years. That would be on par with her 4 1/2-year, estimated $65 million
deal with NBC.

The Wall Street Journal reported it a little differently:

CBS has offered Ms. Couric about $15 million a year to
take over Dan Rather’s anchor chair at the 30-minute “Evening News” and
to contribute to “60 Minutes,” according to people familiar with the
situation. NBC, which pays Ms. Couric more than $16 million a year to
host the three-hour “Today” show, has offered a raise and other perks,
such as specials. Despite the lower paycheck, the CBS anchor job is
more prestigious, and it would be less onerous than the marathon
“Today” broadcast, where her duties require her to get up before dawn.

The Washington Post, as well as other media reports, say the “Today” show anchor job has been offered to Meredith Vieira, host
of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,”, also host of ABC’s “The View” and
commercial spokesperson for Bayer aspirin. Vieria is also a former “60
Minutes” correspondent (1989-91) and worked on the ABC News magazine
“Turning Point.”

 

The New York Times reports this morning:

As for her possible
successor, Ms. Vieira would leave her position as co-host of the talk
show “The View” on ABC when her contract ends this summer, but she and
NBC have yet to resolve whether she would fulfill the two years that
remain on her contract to be the host of the syndicated game show “Who
Wants to Be a Millionaire.” That program is produced partly by Buena
Vista Television, which, like ABC, is owned by the Walt Disney Company.
 

The person with
knowledge of the negotiations said that NBC had not ruled out
permitting Ms. Vieira to begin her duties on “Today” while still
continuing as host of “Millionaire.”

Though the individual
with knowledge of the negotiations said that there was a “strong
possibility” that an agreement with Ms. Vieira would be struck over the
next few days, no announcement is considered imminent, at least not
before Ms. Couric discloses her own plans.

Couric will not be the first woman to anchor “CBS Evening News.” Connie Chung co-anchored the newscast from 1993 to 1995 with Dan Rather, but Couric is expected to anchor the program alone. Barbara Walters
was the first female weekday news anchor of the traditional networks
when she co-anchored the “ABC Evening News” with Harry Reasoner from
1976 to 1978. 

Elizabeth Vargas is the current co-anchor for
“World News Tonight.” Since her co-anchor, Bob Woodruff, was seriously
injured covering the Iraq war, Vargas has anchored alone. But nobody is
saying what would happen if Woodruff never returns. Vargas is scheduled
to go on maternity leave in late summer. There has been speculation,
without confirmation, that Charles Gibson would fill the anchor chair
at that point.

Katie Couric joined NBC News in July 1989 as a
deputy Pentagon correspondent. She joined the “Today” show in June 1990
as its first national correspondent and then served as substitute
co-anchor from February 1991 until she became its permanent co-anchor
on April 5, 1991. She has also been a contributing anchor for “Dateline
NBC.”

Before her network stint, Couric worked in local news in Miami and Washington, D.C. and even worked for CNN and ABC. Her official bio says:

  • She began her career as a desk assistant for the ABC News bureau in her native Washington, D.C. in 1979. 
  • In 1980, she joined CNN as an assignment editor.
    She moved to Atlanta as an associate producer and later became the
    producer of a two-hour news and information program. She eventually
    became a political correspondent.
  • From 1984 to 1986, she was a general-assignment reporter at NBC’s WTVJ in Miami. 
  • From 1987 to 1989, Couric was a general-assignment reporter at WRC-TV, the NBC television station in Washington, D.C.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal explained why the networks wanted to get this deal done and public quickly:

An announcement of her plans could come just before the
annual “upfront” marketplace, in mid-May, when TV networks secure
billions of dollars in advertising commitments for the following
season. NBC will have to scramble to convince advertisers that “Today”
is stable. The show generated some $600 million in ad sales last year
and about $250 million in profit.

The Journal story points out that the “Today”
show has a lot of experience in smoothing transitions from iconic
anchors to the next generation:

NBC has experience in how — and how not — to make an
anchor transition at “Today.” Bryant Gumbel smoothly handed the baton
to Mr. Lauer in 1997. But in a textbook case of bungling, NBC’s 1991
replacement of Jane Pauley with Deborah Norville set off a ratings
plunge. NBC quickly dumped Ms. Norville and installed Ms. Couric, who
was little-known then. NBC thinks “Today” is strong enough to handle a
few bumps. After nearly losing the ratings race to “Good Morning
America” last May, “Today” has developed a wide lead. Last week, it
attracted an average of 6.2 million viewers, about 800,000 more than
its rival.

“Good Morning America” is going through its own transition.
Charlie Gibson, who co-hosts the program with Diane Sawyer, is expected
to move to “World News Tonight,” people familiar with the matter say.
Mr. Gibson would be filling in for Bob Woodruff, who was severely
injured in January while reporting in Iraq. Mr. Woodruff is improving
– he is talking and walking although still receiving treatment at a
private medical facility — but ABC executives don’t expect him to
return anytime soon, if ever.

Couric’s historic move to CBS marks a big change
for male-dominated CBS News, which only included one woman as a regular
correspondent for its premiere magazine program, “60 Minutes.” It is also an historic event for network news generally.

As if a precursor for this announcement, a few
weeks ago (March 24, 2006), all three networks had women in the anchor
chairs. On that day, Media Bistro noted,
Elizabeth Vargas anchored on ABC, Campbell Brown subbed for Brian
Williams, and Lesley Stahl filled in for Bob Schieffer on CBS. It may
have been only the second time that women anchored all three programs
on the same night — the previous occasion was in 1990, the Media
Bistro report said.   

Local TV news, like network news, has been
dominated by men for decades. But male anchors are now the minority,
according to a study by the Radio-Television News Directors Association
and Ball State University.

The study, conducted by professor Bob Papper,
includes responses from 1,223 TV stations nationwide. In the report, 57
percent of news anchors were women. Twenty-one percent of local news
directors were women and 39 percent of the total local news workforce
was female. (See Page 5 of the report. [PDF])

The numbers of men in the anchor seat have
gradually declined since 1996, when RTNDA reported that 46 percent of
anchors were men. You can see some historic statistics from Vernon Stone, who, for years, researched local news demographics.

Resources:

Updated: Wednesday, April 5, 2006 (8:40 a.m.)

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