The word has been out for a long time now that Katie Couric will not be ďre-uppedĒ for the job as primary anchor of CBS News. In truth, she never recovered from the massive build up she received when taking the job and the misguided attempt to remake the broadcast into ďThe Katie Couric ShowĒ with softer focus that would allow her to use her strengths over the value of the news itself. Her 15 million dollar a year contract is now talked of as being the last of its kind in broadcast history: never again will someone be paid such a massive sum to put a face and voice to the nightly news broadcast.
Whatís being circulated in the trade press today, ( 3.31.11) is that CBS wants to keep her and slot her into a syndicated (not network) talk show that would be offered to all comers, including stations programming rival networks. There is no doubt that Katie lights up when softer features and human interest stories come along. You can see it in the way she introduces a story and the smile she often has when the story is over. Okay, get her out of hard news and make her comfortable somewhere else. She is one of the biggest stars ever to come out of the news/chat formats, so let her do what she wants to, I say.
I have some advice for CBS News in terms of her replacement: donít announce it. Just let it happen. Donít even give Katie a big send off, a big last day to tear up and tell the viewers how much she loves them. Just switch the anchors gradually until the change is barely noticed (CBS can give her a temporary extension of that big contract). If she wants to have a goodbye day, call her back after the new anchor is already seated and let her anchor for a day or two. Look, this isnít brain surgery or even like being a football quarterback. It is not going to upset the balance of the world. Sub anchors come in all the time. No big deal.
I would suggest further than the networks stop playing the ďoh what a big important anchorĒ this person is altogether. Make it into less of a big deal and let the viewers decide if they love someone. Donít tell them they have to love person A, B or C.
Hereís another way to downplay the whole process: pick not one, but three or four potential new anchors. No, donít do musical chairs. Donít have them rotating in and out week to week doing nervous try outs. When you put someone in that chair, they know they are being watched and judged on their performance. Donít play up the idea that they are being considered. Just give them a larger role and see what happens.
Look, you can screw up in the usual network way and make a big deal out of the anchor change, sucking up the pub in the NY Times and the tabs and People magazine. Is that what you really want? Screw up in a new way. Make your mamma proud. Show the world your nether regions donít at all resemble those of Barry Bonds, post pills. Make it count.
Whatever you do, donít pick someone like NBCs Richard Engel to come in and anchor. Heís great in the field and thatís where we, the viewers, need him. Heís still nervous and uneasy being on television when heís back in the studio. Watching him in studio type situations, I get the idea that Engel isnít quite sure yet that he belongs where he is, so let him keep doing what he does so well. Heís not an anchor, heís a reporter and a damn good one. This applies to everyone in the CBS stable, too, who hasnít ever done a turn in studio and is doing a good job right where they are. Some people can do studio, some people can do field, some can do both. There are very few Walter Cronkites in the world. He might have been the first and the last, in fact.