Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Big deal? Or does it really matter?

Lil' Sis called me last night with dread in her voice, asking "Is it true?" She loves the Today show, so she's not too happy about Katie Couric leaving NBC to become the anchor of the CBS Evening News. I told Lil' Sis if Howard Kurtz is writing about it in the Washington Post, then it's almost certainly going to happen. In case there were any doubts, Couric made it official this morning. And the New York Times reported that Couric's replacement, The View's Meredith Vieira, is close to being hired.

Why would she do it? She can't need the money. And it's true; NBC paid her garagefuls of money to host Today. I would imagine CBS would pay her at least that much. And I'd make the argument that Couric makes more of an impact hosting the top-rated morning show than she will anchoring the third-rated evening newscast. (Those ratings could surely change, however, which is why such a move was made in the first place.)

But I don't have the numbers on hand; maybe more people watch the evening news, overall. (I kind of doubt it, since so many people get their news through several other venues during the day, but that's assuming that everyone else gets their news the same way as most people I know. Of course, that's not the case. Old habits can be hard to break, and not everyone has cable and internet.)

Ultimately, however, this is about history, isn't it? No woman has ever anchored a network evening newscast on her own.

If CBS wanted to shake up the status quo, which the network's president, Les Moonves, has looked forward to doing ever since Dan Rather retired, this was probably the way to go. People will likely tune in to see if Couric can go from "fluff" morning TV (which is what most of Today is, after the first half-hour) to serious "evening" news, at least initially. This attracts much more attention than promoting whomever was next on the CBS News food chain. (And I think NBC looks smart by having a big-name replacement on hand, too, rather than just bringing up an understudy, though Lil' Sis disagrees and hates the choice of Vieira.)

And I think it's pretty clear the idea has appealed to Couric for a while. Whenever Moonves (or CBS News President Sean McManus) publicly discussed the possibility and Couric was asked to comment, she never denied interest or pledged devotion to NBC. She simply said she was under contract and nothing could be done until her deal ran out in May. Door, you are open.

So the question seems to be whether or not any of this matters. Is this a big deal to any of you reading this, or is it just something that interests media geeks, such as myself? Will you make a point to watch the CBS Evening News, once Katie Couric sits in the anchor chair? (And will she have to change her name to a more serious-sounding "Katherine"?) And once the initial curiosity and novelty wears off, will you keep watching? Or is network news just not on your radar anymore?

Lil' Sis, it'll be okay. Matt Lauer will still be on the show for you.