Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Will Musical Chairs Over AT CBS Prove To Be The Right Thing To Do

Katie Couric had a very good job at NBC's TODAY SHOW for the last few years. Her $60-$100 million dollar contract will be expiring in May. She seemed like a good personality fit for the show that fit in well with Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Ann Curry. What was billed as "America's first family" will be soon missing Katie Couric as she makes a leap over to head the CBS evening news.

Since the National Guard papers incident over at CBS News, which shook up the staff and pushed Dan Rather to leave, the CBS EVENING NEWS has used the senior reporter, Bob Sheiffer. While Bob Scheiffer has been the very effective head of FACE THE NATION for many years, as the anchor of the CBS EVENING NEWS, his role always seemed like a temporary one to me. Indeed it was. But how well Katie Couric will fit in as the new head news anchor will be a good question.

CBS has actually has a problem with a rapidly age advancing news head news crew. The great 60 MINUTES program has cast that includes the semiretiring Mike Wallace who is well into his 80's. By comparison importing Katie Couric, a respected NBC personality well into their 40's seems like new blood by comparison. On 60 MINUTES she'll also add new blood to this program as well.

But whether CBS importing another NBC personality in Katie Couric will work out as well as bringing over David Letterman will be interesting to see. More than any network, CBS has been able to successfully import personalities from other networks and make it work.

Some years ago, the military drama JAG drew only moderate ratings on NBC, but when the program was picked up by CBS, it proved to be a major hit. Only drawing the black sitcom from ABC, Family Matters, with the popular Steve Urkiel character proved to be a ratings disaster for CBS. The program quickly failed in the ratings, and was usually replaced with terrible programming such as paid programming and other real junk.

But the role at the helm of CBS EVENING NEWS will be more limited for Katie Couric where she will often be reduced merely to the role of reading the news. It will be on 60 MINUTES and in interview segments on the CBS EVENING NEWS where her best skills at interviewing guests will be proven.

But whether elevating Katie Couric to the more limited role of largely reading the CBS EVENING NEWS, will be an example of elevating someone to a position of which they are now not particularly good at will be a good question. THE TODAY SHOW seemed tailor made for her skills and her chemistry with the rest of the crew was exceptionally good.

Walter Chronkite was a real legend over at CBS for many years. He was a real voice of authority that people trusted. Whether Katie Couric can weld together a similar following and trust will interesting. As a morning programming anchor she has certainly well proven herself. But whether in prime time and on another network it will work is a very good question. But it's little quirks like this that make TV interesting and not the "vast wasteland" than Newton Minnow once believed it to be.


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