Dan Rather says his old broadcast "dumbed down" and "tarted up" when Katie Couric took the desk. He was talking about the product. CBS topper Les Moonves thought he was talking about Katie and ripped Rather a new news hole. Couric producer Rick Kaplan says Rather should shut up and fade out. At least one TV writer notes Dan's newscast was in third place long before Couric took over, and that Memogate scandal didn't help.
This is the same quality versus ratings debate with a new scapegoat. I have discussed previously why the CBS Evening News with Couric isn't working. Several reasons don't involve Katie, but several big ones do -- including the ghosts of her Today past and her awkwardness with the prompter. Gender is not the issue.
Mooves said, "Let's give her a break," echoing my sentiments, even though Evening News recently dropped to its lowest rating levels in 20 years.
If CBS dumps Katie now, it admits the critics are right, and the network has just flushed away millions of dollars. If it stays with her and the ratings don't show improvement, or drop even lower, they lose millions in ad dollars. They also leave affiliates grumbling about lousy lead-ins to their own programming.
My worst fear: the bluster of snarky TV critics, bloggers, and talk radio will buffet Black Rock like Hurricane Camille, and nervous toppers will topple Katie like Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad. And who will they get to replace her? Bob Schieffer doesn't want the full-time job. CBS alienated former weekend anchor John Roberts when they passed him over and he jumped to CNN. They're not going to dust off Uncle Walter.
Harry Smith, maybe? It could work. He's a likable enough guy.
But maybe some low-key person would be just as well... somebody who wouldn't make $15 million... somebody who would make news the star again.
Hey, Dan and Heather... how would you like a shot at the big time?