Friday, April 07, 2006

Matt & Katie As Cleanup Crew

(69) Matt & Katie As Cleanup Crew

When Matt Lauer was elevated to co-host of “The Today Show” many of us speculated that the ratings would soar, and they did. Matt knows how to trim trees and care for them, a useful skill when it came to un-doing eleven years of Bryant Gumbel. A quck pruning. Some fertilizer, that kind of thing.

Ex-partner, Katie Couric now is charged with cleaning up the mess at CBS. This is no small task. But, for her, there’s good news and bad. The good news is that Bob Schieffer kind of paved the way for her by attracting more than 700,000 new viewers to the “Evening News.” The bad news for her is that she has more than 20 years of Dan Damage to repair. That’s much harder than eleven years of Defiant Bryant.

Lauer realized from the start that “the star of the show’s the show, not the star.” He may or may not remember that now. But it served him well in his first years.

She does not realize that – most in her position don’t.

Big, tearful nonsense between the end of the Katie era and the start of the Meredith era. But soon thereafter, Katie will be on the back burner of her former viewers, if not in the freezer.

The CBS publicity machine is ginning up. If the first ratings of “The Dan Damage Show with Katie” are great, they will issue a statement saying “we expect something like that… there is a lot of interest and curiosity and we expect steady growth in the broadcast’s viewership over the long term.

If the ratings tank it will cite the heritage of CBS News and advise us to be patient while the viewership builds, also over the long term.

Let’s remember some of the “heritage of CBS News.” Damage got his job because he was in the right place at the right time – covering JFK’s motorcade for a Dallas station when the shots rang out.

He kept the job because as a White House reporter, he asked Dick Nixon some tough questions.

In both cases – in fact, in most cases – Damage made himself the story. That’s a no-no.

He moved from the White House to the anchor chair because Cronkite thought he’d do a pretty good job, though, naturally, not as good as Himself. He was right about the second part and wrong about the first, and said as much when Damage stepped into quicksand and took retirement.

Schieffer kept saying he didn’t want the Dan job full time. Maybe. But he was yards closer to Cronkite than to Damage. People like him. They trust him. He’s harmless.

The Perky Katie (she hates the word. Do you blame her?) Is NOTHING like Walter and Bob. Fortunately, she’s also nothing like Dan, which will be a help.

(Disclaimer: the undersigned spent 8 years of his NBC sentence writing and producing for “The Today Show” and its cousins and wishes Couric well. Surprise, surprise, Katie: If you think things were serpentine and weird at NBC, wait until you get to CBS.)

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2006 WJR

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