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In case of Couric, Vieira and possibly Lauer, three do not make a trend

With Katie Couric likely exiting her gig as anchor of CBS' evening newscast and "Today" co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer possibly wondering about how long they want to stay in their gigs with NBC, it'd be easy to think there must be something bigger going on in network news.

In journalism, three of anything is often used as a sign of a trend. But just as a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, an anchor leaving is sometimes just an anchor leaving.

With Couric, making the move away from NBC's "Today" to CBS' "Evening News" in 2006 was a big gamble. She wanted a new platform and to put herself on par with the legends of the news game who had held the chair before, including Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley.

CBS, in turn, wanted Couric to put a fresh face on a struggling broadcast. The last years of Dan Rather were mired in scandal regarding his reporting on George Bush's military service. Bob Schieffer did an admirable job stepping in after Rather, but he was not the face for a new generation of news viewer that CBS was hoping to attract.

COURIC Unfortunately, the hype about Couric was so high it was impossible for her performance to match it. As the first woman to solo anchor an evening news show, Couric herself became a story and perhaps unintentionally a distraction. Her clothes were often critiqued as much as her anchoring chops. She was barely in the job a year when whispers started that she'd leave before her contract was up. Those whispers eventually became shouts. Couric may have contributed to some of that speculation herself by participating in a few of the stories about her happiness with her gig at CBS.

This is not to say outside factors are the sole reason for the continuing struggles of CBS News with Couric at the anchor desk. She was not a good fit for that role and the newscast itself didn't adjust well enough to her strengths as an interviewer.

At a time when news divisions are challenged to make ends meet and find the resources to cover stories, having a $15-million-a-year anchor also seems to send the wrong message about what's important. That CBS stayed in third place didn't help in the analysis of that investment.

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves had made clear that the big paychecks would be gone and Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes" who is now also chairman of CBS News, seems more interested in a more meat-and-potatoes approach to news.

Now, another reality having little to do with Couric is that the business of the evening news is on the decline. The TV networks have struggled to come up with a format that is more than telling people what they've already watched on cable, read online or tweeted about. A generation that grew up on evening news at 6:30 is now growing old and a new generation does not share that same viewing habit or is even home at that time to watch.

The growth of cable and the Internet has also provided more diversity in analysis and opinion if not actual news coverage. For those who feel the network news programs are slanted one way or another, there are now options to find news with different views. Why go to a big supermarket hoping to find what you are looking for when there is a tiny store down the street that specializes in exactly what you want?

With regards to Vieira and Lauer, their reasons for thinking about the next move have nothing to do with Couric's plans to go to daytime TV or about the current TV news environment. Vieira has made no secret that she puts her family first as her husband continues to struggle with multiple sclerosis. Her perspective is why people close to "Today" say she and Lauer get along so well. There is very little jockeying for position or fighting for airtime between them. She took on an impossible job in succeeding Couric and "Today" barely missed a beat. There are plenty of people available to fill her slot including Ann Curry.

Lauer's contract is not up until the end of 2012, so "Today" executive producer Jim Bell has plenty of time to find a replacement for him should he decide to leave. If he does, don't look for Lauer to also try for a daytime job or another news anchoring gig. People who have worked with Lauer note that while he is a hard worker, having a bigger platform for himself for the sake of a platform is not a key motivator.

The morning shows remain the cash cows of news divisions, so getting the right people in front of the camera is crucial. NBC has made mistakes in this in the past when Jane Pauley was moved aside for Deborah Norville. Audiences didn't warm up to Norville, which cleared the way for Couric.

It is very easy to look at the possibility of three major personalities all deciding to move on and decide there is a bigger story here. There is no shortage of academics ready to agree in return for a prominent quote.

But that doesn't make it so.


Katie Couric looking to exit 'CBS Evening News'

-- Joe Flint

Photos, from top: "Today" show hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer with Ted Williams, right, the homeless voiceover personality (credit: Reuters); Katie Couric (credit: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images).

Comments () | Archives (10)

Not only has Katie been a big failure at CBS News, but Moonves probably should have been fired for hiring her. It was a bad decision. Of course, Moonves hired his wife too, and this should NOT have been allowed by the CBS board of directors. So when Katie exits the premises, so should Moonves.

WOW! Thats a shocker. I guess they are getting tired of defending Prez Obama. I too am tired of defending my Liberal constituents. Life is turning for the better now that I 've seen the light. Donald Trump is makng more and more sense to me..

First female nightly news anchor...what woman in her right mind wouldn't take that job?

Problem is, being a nightly news anchor isn't for people who are good at being the life of a party and Couric is, of course, good at being just that.

I don't watch Couric's newscast, but it has nothing to do with her. My viewing habits have changed over the years, and I NEVER watch network evening news any more.

I'm online all day, and I check for breaking, and other, news throughout the day. Settling in at 6:30 to watch a network's newscast just isn't something I feel the need to do. Besides, with all of the cable news and information channels, combined with the Internet, there's just no need.

Couric entered the network evening news arena at a very bad time, and it has nothing to do with her, or with her being female. As this article, and I, mentioned, viewing habits have changed. That's not Couric's fault.

And yet...television is changing and that's the story. One swallow does not make a spring, but if it's already spring and you see a swallow fly past, you are allowed to comment on it. So it actually is kosher to make something of the possible exit of three major players in the TV business.

I don't watch news anymore because all the hosts are too opinionated of the story and no more substances to the news itself!

The young generation, glued to their texting devices of choice, are clueless about the outside world. It's not just that the evening news is passe', Americans increasingly are under-informed with hardly a worldview to share. At least during the 60's, kids new enough about Viet Nam and the rest of the war, courtesy Cronkite, Brinkley, Sevareid, Mudd, Chancellor, on through Rather and Brokaw and other anchors, to get angry and get out and protest.

Now the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Lybia go largely unnoticed without a decent demonstration to note.

I'm turning to RT, Al Jazeera, and DW for a broader, less corporate view. Still watch the evening news, just not CBS. NBC with Brian Willims is a lot more professional. Couric spent a lot of time smirking and being smug with herself. Please also forget the oft-quoted "first woman" moniker. It a mantle that Couric didn't wear well. Jeez. Elizabeth Vargas was doing a better job consistently, without all the self-congratulating along the way.

I used to like Katie Couric but ever since she bashed Sarah Palin, I dislike her for that. My friends do too. I can't stand women bashing women to enhance their career...how would she like if somehow drilled her & harped on her shortcomings....we all have them...shame on you..it really didn't make her popular amongst women. She maybe scored points with the democrats....and I am just wondering if it was that her intention all along?
I don't care for her. I don't watch the any news on regular tv. I love CNN and cable news.

The first point to be considered is that the morning shows are no longer new programs. These shows are entertainment that is masked in a news veil... Evening news definitely needs to change with the times and must if the younger audience is to climb on the bus. Lastly, Ann Curry sucks as an anchor for Today... She is totally fake and comes across that way with her false sincerity during interviews and remote reporting. Move her into the seat and the result will be similar to D.N.'s... I have worked in news in New York over many years and would love to see "real news" return to the air.......... RM

Hey, Meredith is leaving and they need a replacement? Well, I'll take over, I need a job!!


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