So apparently change isn't always so good. That's the best way to describe Katie Couric finally acknowledging in public that the move to CBS to anchor the "Evening News" after a stellar career hosting "The Today Show' may have been a mistake after all. It's funny, Katie doesn't blame herself, and she doesn't say exactly why she's not connecting with the "Evening News” audience or why her broadcast is a distant third to ABC and NBC. She just says, "People are very unforgiving and resistant to change…The biggest mistake we made is we tried new things.”
Katie finally went public in an in-depth interview with New York magazine. If you didn't know any better, you'd think Katie was criticizing the viewers and saying they just don't appreciate good TV because it isn't what they're familiar with.
While I respect Katie Couric tremendously as a broadcaster who has had an impressive career doing personal profiles and engaging interviews, this CBS experiment was a really long shot right from the beginning. Simply put, Katie Couric is not a great news anchor or an even particularly good news anchor, at least not a network evening news anchor. That's not a crime. A lot of great football players can't play baseball or basketball, but they are still great athletes. That's how different Katie Couric's job on "The Today Show” was from what she was expected to do for CBS News.
The other thing is that it wasn't just the audience being "very resistant" to change, as Katie says. It was the fact that the change offered wasn't very good. Right out of the box, Katie and her producers made a big mistake with some of their programming decisions. Doing a 60-90 second segment with people (some known, some not) offering individual commentary or essays was a high-wire move with no compelling logic behind it. It was a crapshoot. Some of these people we had heard of before and others who may have had something interesting to say didn't know how say it into a camera. This approach may have been fine for local cable access or some cable news program trying to "break new ground”, but for the "CBS Evening News”? It was just a bad idea, which is why the audience never responded to it and why it was ultimately scrapped.
And what was that whole thing about asking viewers to write in to suggest how Katie should close the broadcast? Isn't that what we pay high-priced producers and writers for in the world of network news? I mean, the Internet is great, and we all love getting interesting e-mail about our work on the air. But this was just a cheap, and not especially interesting, gimmick. It was beneath such an important network news broadcast with a long, distinguished history of doing solid, hard news.
Look, competing in the evening news sweepstakes is not easy. Doing it as the first women had to be especially difficult. But I'm not convinced this is the reason the "Katie Couric Experiment” didn't work out. It wasn't because of sexism or that people had it out for Katie. In fact, she's a really likeable person on air. But I do think she and the bosses at CBS never really thought through what this job would be and whether she was right for it.
It's one of those things where a job sounds great on paper because it's impressive and you'll get a lot of attention by doing it. But the actual job itself really doesn't fit your skill set. The job really isn't as interesting as you thought it would be. You can't really be that creative. It's a half hour broadcast about the news of the day with 22 minutes of actual news. The anchor's job is to read news copy, often written by someone else, and throw to a correspondent in the field.
Sounds simple enough, but to do it in a way that makes it look easy and comfortable is the craft. Some people, like Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson, clearly have what it takes to do the job. I just never saw Katie in this role, and obviously I am not alone. The job never fit her skill set.
Then again, you might say, for $12 million who cares if you're having fun or being creative as long as your making those check deposits every two weeks at the bank? But apparently Katie Couric does care. She's a professional, and this is embarrassing on some level. She wanted to have fun, and she wanted to be herself. She wanted to do well, and get ratings. And now she says in New York magazine she sometimes asks, "Oh my God…what did I do?”
You took a shot, Katie. And no one could criticize you for that. But it just hasn't worked out. You're not going to the poor house anytime soon, and you still have that "60 Minutes" gig to fall back on, as well as a great track record doing that other gig on "The Today Show.” My advice? End the experiment now, don't drag it out any longer. It hasn't worked for you, and it just hasn't worked for us.
Write to Steve Adubato at email@example.com.