Monday, May 14, 2007

Why Katie Couric Isn't Lifting CBS News

The New York Times asks if Katie Couric's CBS career is circling the drain. Reporter Bill Carter's conclusion: not yet. That's despite the hit piece by The Philadelphia Inquirer's Gail Shister and comments from CBS News Exec Linda Mason, who said on PublicEye that people seem to "prefer the news from white guys, and now that Charlie [Gibson]'s doing so well, from older white guys."

From my humble perspective, let me offer the reasons Katie isn't the salvation CBS was hoping for.

Ghosts of Yes-TODAY. Couric paid her journalistic dues covering the Pentagon and the Gulf War. But then came Today and we saw her flying outside 30 Rock as Peter Pan. How many people remember the latter and not the former?

She's Got The Look. I call it the "prompter stare," that deer-in-the headlights countenance that drains all the personality out of her. When Couric interviews or ad-libs, she's in the zone. When she reads scripts, she's in the cage.

No Time To Chat. Katie's big strength is her interviewing ability, and CBS tried to exploit this by working more newsmaker interviews into her nightly broadcast. When Rick Kaplan took charge, he hardened up the show and cut the interviews.

Weak Lead-Ins. CBS stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are all struggling in their early evening newscasts. The network is still smarting from losing affiliates in Detroit and Cleveland to Fox. The local broadcasts are failing to deliver viewers from their own news products over to Katie's.

Let me remind everybody: Couric has been on CBS for less than one year. One theory says it takes 18 months for a local newscast to show ratings improvement after a makeover. I believe you can apply that to the network 'casts. Let's wait until the summer of 2008 and make the decision then about Katie's future.

And by the way folks, she has been winning in Tucson.

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