Saturday, April 15, 2006

KATIE ON THE COVER OF NEWSWEEK

Well I have gotten a copy of the latest issue of Newsweek with Katie Couric on the cover, and you can read the article about Katie here if you can't find the issue or perhaps are too cheap to want to buy it.

As for the chattering classes, well, people are still horrified that Katie will be anchoring the CBS Evening News, and complaining about what a big sellout this is. They think this is a victory for "entertainment values" and "tabloid TV". They think CBS News isn't going for a serious journalist but for a "personality" in their anchor choice, and they don't like that one bit. They think Katie's on-air persona, her warmth and general perkiness are unfit for the CBS Evening News. They think the newscast will be "dumbed down" to grab a bigger audience. I also read somewhere- I think it was in Newsweek-- that people are complaining that the CBS Evening News is being babed-up and that the network execs have some sort of plot to put on all the hot lookers on the air to get an audience, like the usual suspects Lara Logan and Trish Regan. People actually are complaining about all this! They think the addition of Couric is surely the end of TV news as we know it and the triumph of tabloid TV values, and they are angry about it.

Maybe it is a big change. This seems to be the final act in the transition from the Big 3 era of Rather, Brokaw and Jennings. It's no longer "The Voice of God" telling you what the important news is each day. Now it's the era of the anchor-as-personality, the era of emotional news anchors and emotive news stories. The critics say the actual news will no longer be treated as important in this new era, or even seem important. And people are upset about it and trashing these news executives. They say the TV executives are about to turn the evening newscasts into nightly, half-hour imitations of Dateline NBC.

Also angry are all the Bob Schieffer fans who don't want Schieffer to leave and actually think the CBS Evening News is just fine the way it is, thank you very much. I actually agree and think there was no need to go after Katie Couric! They were doing just fine with the crew they had, but Les Moonves is completely power-mad and willing to spend money like crazy to beat NBC in the evening news race. People have this misguided notion that Katie Couric will somehow appeal to a younger audience and get young people to watch the evening news. But frankly, young people were just fine watching Bob Schieffer. Katie is no big improvement; what young person wants to see this woman from the Today Show who gets all emotional and cries on TV all the time?

I sort of don't care whether Katie's the anchor or not, really. Bob was going to leave anyway, so it really doesn't affect me either way. Besides, I don't make a habit out of watching the CBS Evening News anymore. Too many boring drug stories! If they really want to attract a younger audience they need to run fewer medical stories. People are tired of seeing reports about arthritis cures and the coming human-to-human bird-flu epidemic. You really think young people want to watch that? No- short answer. And it doesn't matter whether it is Katie Couric or Bob Schieffer throwing to some hot babe like Trish Regan or somebody to talk about some miracle cure; drug stories are drug stories, and only people over the age of 60 care about that sort of news. People could care less about the reporters covering this dreck, whether they're under 30 or hot-looking or not. They should really cut down on these boring drug stories.

But the drug stories will NEVER go away, even though they aren't big news! The drug companies are the biggest advertisers on the Evening News by such a big margin that it's a joke. So you can be sure these stories are still going to go on, as usual. Same with the usual sad stories about people dying in Iraq, or people cleaning up from all the natural disasters that wreck the United States all the time. Watch the evening news for a week and you'll be convinced that the world is about to end, that we're all going to die. You really think young people want to watch that!? They really need to change the stories that they show if they are serious about getting an audience under the age of 60. But then people will complain and say the CBS Evening News is becoming a tabloid newscast with entertainment values! Right.

Anyway, it's all much ado about nothing. I don't think we'll see much change in the newscast, beyond a new host and perhaps a chattier style. We'll see Katie interviewing the correspondents in the field, asking Byron Pitts where in the world he is and so on. We'll see lots of stories about colon cancer on the CBS Evening News, you can bet your hat about that. Anyway, that's about it.

Katie Couric will go to CBS and the sky won't fall, and it won't be the end of the TV news business as we know it, and she'll do her job and they'll be fine. There should be an initial buzz and some pretty big ratings. But I also say get ready for some big howls from the critics. This is certainly the most controversial anchoring move we've seen, possibly in history, all because perky Katie Couric is seen as representing "entertainment values". These big TV critics are lining up, so they can blast her opening night this fall. Mark my words, it is happening right now. They are all readying their guns.

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