Katie Couric’s Debut Earns CBS Ratings Win
First Published: September 6, 2006 12:34 PM EDT Credit: AP, CBS
-- NEW YORK (September 6, 2006) — Katie Couric is starting out on top.
Early figures show the “CBS Evening News” was the top-rated newscast on Couric’s first night.
Her preliminary ratings were 86 percent higher than what CBS averaged on the same day last year.
ABC was second and NBC was third.
NBC is usually in first place, but Couric seemed to siphon viewers most from her old network. NBC’s ratings were down 23 percent. ABC’s were off 15 percent from a year ago.
The head researcher at CBS says Couric did much better than they expected.
On her first night as “CBS Evening News” anchor, Couric showed she wasn’t afraid to take some chances.
She opened with a flashy investigative report, interviewed an expert on the set and allowed an outsider to deliver his own commentary. None of that would be commonplace in a news format she has called formulaic and in need of spicing up.
“We’re trying a few new things here on the evening news,” Couric said.
The most obvious was her presence as the top female in network news. She was introduced in a voiceover recorded by CBS News legend Walter Cronkite, but her newscast looked nothing like the sober recitation of news headlines common in Cronkite’s era.
Couric’s long-awaited debut capped a tumultuous period for the evening news. For more than two decades, the network news was dominated by Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather. Now, Couric will compete against Brian Williams at top-rated NBC and Charles Gibson at ABC.
She arrived at CBS after 15 years as host of NBC’s “Today” show, where she was accustomed to always being first in the ratings. The “CBS Evening News” is third, but Couric has said that status could be liberating.
On a relatively slow news day, CBS opened with chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan being escorted by a Taliban commander to view soldiers displaying their weapons less than 10 miles from a U.S. base.
Logan, dressed in black with only part of her face visible, was heard asking one of her guides, “Am I allowed to smile?”
Following a conventional report on President Bush’s speech about the terrorist threat, Couric showed her “Today” roots by bringing New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman into the studio for a discussion on the terrorist threat.
“Things seemed to be going well in Afghanistan,” she said. “What happened? Why is it unraveling now?”
She then whipped through a handful of headlines — a corporate turnover at Ford, mourning over the killed “crocodile hunter” — all before the first commercial.
Couric also introduced “Free Speech,” a segment that will periodically feature outsiders giving a brief commentary. Morgan Spurlock, who subsisted on McDonald’s for 30 days in his documentary “Supersize Me,” was first up, talking about how the nation’s political divide is exaggerated by the media. Couric promised that Rush Limbaugh would be featured Thursday.
The rest of the broadcast was dominated by longer features on the discovery of a new oil reserve in the Gulf of Mexico and high school students who draw portraits of poor orphans across the world. Couric also showed the first pictures of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ new baby, Suri.
She made only one slip, mispronouncing “soil” as “sole” at one point but quickly correcting herself.
“I felt the show, taken as a whole, had too much softness to it,” said Bob Zelnick, a former ABC News correspondent and current Boston University journalism professor. He said, however, that Couric won’t really be judged until the public sees her perform when big news breaks.
Couric’s only real nod to her newbie status came at the end, with a joking report on her difficulties coming up with a signoff. She showed clips of Cronkite, Chet Huntley, Dan Rather, and even fictitious anchormen Ted Baxter and Ron Burgundy giving their final words, then invited viewers to submit suggestions via the CBS News Web site.
“Thank you so much for watching,” she said, “and I hope to see you tomorrow night.”
As the end credits rolled, Couric, wearing a white jacket over a black shirt and skirt, was leaning against the edge of her desk, showing her famous legs.
She gulped a celebratory martini handed to her when the cameras turned off, according to CBSNews.com.
She’s the first woman hired to anchor one of the three network nightly newscasts on her own. Predecessors Barbara Walters, Connie Chung and Elizabeth Vargas only got their jobs in partnership with men.
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