The Katie Couric Conundrum: What Should CBS Do?
By Mike Hess Posted Feb 4th 2010 01:40PM
Katie Couric's tenure as the anchor of CBS' 'Evening News' has been one of just as many highs as lows. Through it all, she's weathered the storm -- both critical and public -- and persevered despite generally ranking last among the Big Three network evening broadcasts for almost all of her time at CBS since 2006. And, as everyone saw with Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno, the business side of television can be a demanding and cruel landscape, and with Couric's (very meaty) contract up next year, many are pondering what will transpire with CBS' Couric conundrum.
The state of the economy is affecting everyone, and new reports claim that Couric's whopping $15 million a year salary might have to be trimmed a bit if CBS keeps her on board. For comparison, NBC's Brian Williams -- who almost permanently holds the top spot among the nightly network news broadcasts -- makes $10 million a year and pulls in on average more than 3 million more viewers (averaging around 10 million viewers compared to Couric's 6.5-7 million) than Couric.
This week, the New York Post reported that there was a "populist backlash against Couric's cash" brewing, but CBS News & Sports President Sean McManus quickly stepped out to extinguish the rumor-mill flames.
"Nobody in the business works harder than Katie and I can tell you unequivocally that there have been and are no plans and not even a single discussion about making a change or renegotiating," McManus told the Huffington Post. Still, McManus told TVNewser that "when Katie's contract is up there will be a spirited competition for her services, based on the work that she's done in the last few years."
Roger Friedman, who writes the Showbiz411 column for The Hollywood Reporter, tells PopEater that CBS is going to do everything they can to hold onto Couric, even in lieu of her third-place performance for the network.
"They've already invested a lot in creating and promoting her as anchor of the Evening News. They're not going to abandon that next year," Friedman told us.
In the first days of Couric's CBS debut, ratings skyrocketed for the 'Evening News' broadcast due to public interest as to how Katie would handle the job -- much like how Conan O'Brien drew his biggest numbers in his final days on the 'Tonight Show,' with everyone wanting to see what would happen. Sadly for Katie, once the initial interest faded away, so did her viewers.
During the 2008 presidential election, though, Couric gained a heap of redemption -- and credibility among her skeptics -- when she sat down for a now-infamous interview with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Couric asked the Alaskan governor questions that Palin later dubbed "gotcha journalism" -- namely what kinds of magazines she reads and how Alaska being close to Russia relates to foreign policy. The Couric-Palin showdown put Katie back in the public eye, but much like her debut, the attention eventually faded away.
Couric's past in the word of less-serious television -- namely the 'Today' show -- has many wondering whether the fact that her contract expires in the same year that Oprah Winfrey is ditching network TV to start her own cable empire could result in Katie jumping ship to go back to fluffier programming.
"Some viewers that were accustomed to her more perky side had a difficult time accepting her covering more serious news," says Michelle Lee, Executive Editor of In Touch Weekly.
So what should CBS do? It really depends who you ask, as both of our experts seem to have different ideas as to what's best for both involved.
"CBS News is a dinosaur fighting for survival. Katie is the network's last best hope," Friedman tells PopEater. "She's a news person. She was raised on news, and wants to be taken seriously. Closet make overs and DNA tests don't seem like her milieu. People want a new Oprah. But if there's one out there, we haven't seen them yet."
Still, In Touch Weekly's Lee disagrees, and thinks that this could be the perfect opportunity for Couric to make her move back to the peak of the television food chain.
"Katie has the interviewing skills and personality to headline a daytime talk show like Oprah, so this could be the strategic move that brings her back on top."
No matter what happens -- whether Katie stays or goes -- let's just hope things work out a bit tidier than they did with Jay and Conan.
Katie Couric Snapshots
A bundled-up Katie Couric trudges through a frigid winter day in New York City in this photo. Click for More Pics of Katie Out and About >>>
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