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Relationship between CBS and Couric ending with a whimper, not a bang

March 24, 2011 |  1:21 pm

Katie Couric was chided by David Letterman this week for thinking of leaving her job as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

"It's not like it's a temp gig," Letterman told Couric, reminding her that other anchors "ride into the sunset."

COURIC For Couric, the sun apparently sets around 2 p.m. Don't blame her, though. That anchor seat has lost a lot of value since it was occupied by Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. In fact, a case could be made that Couric traded down when she left NBC's "Today" for CBS.

Now she wants to try daytime. What's interesting is that CBS does not appear to be making a big push to keep her in the anchor chair. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who was instrumental in wooing Couric away from NBC to CBS, is sitting back and letting the new leadership at CBS News -- Chairman Jeff Fager and President David Rhodes, call the shots, according to people familiar with the situation.

Moonves may not want to be seen publicly pursuing someone who clearly has their mind made up. Perhaps singing "Happy Birthday" to Couric for a video the network made for her in January was as far as he was willing to go.

That Couric is consulting with her former "Today" producer (and ex-NBC Universal CEO) Jeff Zucker probably hasn't helped her relationship with her current bosses at CBS. It will be interesting to see if CBS seriously considers going after a Couric talk show or passes.

PELLEY Inside CBS, attention is starting to focus on Scott Pelley as the leading candidate for Couric's job should she bolt, which seems to be a foregone conclusion.

Pelley, a "60 Minutes" correspondent, is close to Fager, who besides being chairman of CBS News continues to executive produce the newsmagazine.

Pelley has been with CBS for more than 21 years. If he is given the job, odds are the network won't have to worry about him eyeing his next big deal or wondering what else is on the horizon.

If Couric does leave, her stint at CBS will be one of the shortest for an evening news anchor. Cronkite did it for almost 20 years and Rather for more than two decades. ABC's Peter Jennings and NBC's Tom Brokaw also put in over 20 years anchoring. While ABC weathered some instability with the anchor slot after Jennings died, Diane Sawyer seems willing to take Letterman's advice and ride into the sunset. NBC's Brian Williams also seems entirely comfortable in his job.

There will be lots of analysis about Couric's run at CBS News. She did not boost ratings the way CBS would have liked. Her persona, perfect for the morning, ultimately did not work as well in the evenings. The media seemed more obsessed than viewers about her role as CBS News anchor. In daytime, she will be back in her comfort zone.

-- Joe Flint

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Photos: Top right: Katie Couric. Credit: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images. Bottom left: Scott Pelley. Credit: John Filo/CBS.


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