CBS's $15 million experiment of hiring Katie Couric has not paid any dividends. Six months into her tenure as anchor of the "Evening News," Couric has actually fallen in the ratings from her predecessor, Bob Schieffer, sparking talk within the network that the former NBC star will soon be shown the door.
Besides ratings, CBS insiders and TV observers quoted by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Gail Shister take issue with Couric over her inability to relate to the 50+ news viewer and fluff news background.
Couric's personal pride seems to be the stickler, though:
Network-news analyst Andrew Tyndall agrees. "Evening News" "is absolutely salvageable," he says. The key will be Couric's learning to relax into her role as an evening anchor.
That won't be easy, given the pressure of impossibly high expectations. Many say Couric was painted as a white knight brought in to resurrect the once-mighty "Evening News."
"She's trying too hard," Tyndall says. "She's overthinking her role. She's got to stand back. It's a very Zen problem. To be the face of 'Evening News,' she's got to be self-effacing."
Self-effacing isn't the first adjective that comes to mind with Couric. She arrived at CBS with her own group of producers, bookers and assistants, which didn't sit well with the staff.
"She sees herself as a star and thinks the whole news department is here to serve her," says a longtime CBS correspondent. [...]
"From the moment she walked in here, she held herself above everybody else," says a CBS staffer. "We had to live up to her standards. . . . CBS has never dealt in this realm of celebrity before."
I tend to agree with that analysis. Humility has never been Couric's strong suit. But it's also never been CBS's strong suit either. Anyone who's followed or worked in television for a while can tell you this. CBS News actually thinks it's better than every other news organization in the world. And not just in a we're-all-a-team kind of way. I've had several CBS employees (current and former) tell me this. "There's a cult of CBS," one put it.
It's strange enough on its own that a TV news operation should think of itself as a "magical kingdom" but what's even stranger is that this is the same news operation that has been dead-last in the ratings for most of 20 years and further tarnished its name through its infamous Memogate scandal. It makes no sense at all. Throw a prideful Katie Couric into the mix and it's no wonder the viewers are tuning out.
If CBS really were serious about getting things back together, it'd start assuming that CBS News is the underdog. It's trying to dig itself out of a hole, not look down from on high.
Oh, and fix that liberal bias problem while you're at it, too.
Editor's Note (Ken Shepherd): Besides poor ratings, there's another recent problem casting a shadow over Couric, but it was eclipsed by the Don Imus controversy coverage. A since-fired CBS producer, Melissa McNamara, was found to have plagiarized the Wall Street Journal for a vlog she wrote for Katie Couric.