Monday, May 02, 2011

855 Katie Did -- And Didn't

855 Katie-did, and Didn’t.

(Note to readers: Please excuse the first person material, but despite my firm rule against using “I,” I can’t tell some of this story without it. Thanks.)

The viewers had this figured out long before CBS news managed. Rather was an “anchor” who was not just holding the ship in place but dragging it under.

So they went on a hunt for a replacement, and found one, Bob Schieffer, 74, an old school CBSnik, and sure enough, up went the ratings. Overnight. And they stayed there. But Bob didn’t want the job full time, what with being in his mid 70s and with his duties on the Sunday program “Face the Nation.” So the appointment was temporary and the rumor -- which turned out to be true -- was they were going to hire Katie Couric away from NBC’s “Today Show.”

I worked on Today for almost ten years, knew Katie well and have the greatest regard for her as a person, an interviewer and a show host. She is smart, well informed and quick. And she’s easy to watch and listen to. She is a fine combination of journalist of the kind equally at home with an international crisis and a segment on how to cook Cornish Game Hens on a barbecue. Versatile. Authoritative when appropriate, girl-next-door when IT’S appropriate.

But her selection as anchor of the CBS Evening News probably wasn’t the best choice either for her or for CBS. Now, after covering the Royal Wedding and running out her contract, she’s gone, off to find a syndicated talk show that’s more Katie-did than Katie Didn’t.

And make no mistake about it, that show, when it’s finally put together should and will succeed.

As a veteran of both NBC and CBS, I can tell you that there’s a stark difference in the newsroom cultures. And that’s something neither of the networks seems to get.

Neither culture is “superior.” They’re just different. And few who have made the transition at or near the top of the heap have worked out. Roger Mudd didn’t last at NBC. Bryant Gumbel bombed when he switched from NBC to CBS. And these are just two high-profile examples.

Walter Cronkite would not have been at home had he bolted to NBC. David Brinkley could have worked anywhere after leaving the Huntley-Brinkley report, but knowing these differences, chose ABC as his new and final TV home.

So, here’s Katie, new to CBS, trying a new approach to the Evening News, finding it not working, pulling back to a more traditional format and still not luring viewers despite the wide respect people have for her soon to be former employer and its news division.

And it’s not because she’s a woman. Barbara Walters and now Diane Sawyer prove --not that they should have had to -- that women do fine on the dinner time news programs.

So now, the people at CBS can say “we love Katie but she didn’t work out. It wasn’t the right fit.” But they send Couric back out into the world with a bad report card she didn’t and doesn’t deserve.


They should give bin Laden a mob-style funeral. Tons of flowers and limos and such. Then, send in the FBI to take down license plate numbers.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

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