In Depth

Couric and CBS: ‘Let’s Stay Friends’

Talks between Katie Couric and her bosses at CBS News over her future as anchor of the “Evening News” have been amicable, with both sides agreeing that while the content of her broadcast is competitive, the program’s lagging ratings can’t be accepted for the long term.

No decision has been made on whether she will depart her post prior to the expiration of her five-year, $75 million contract and the two sides haven’t held discussions in recent weeks, according to people familiar with the matter. Wednesday, press reports reignited speculation that Ms. Couric wouldn’t see out the term of her contract.

The sources close to the matter say:

-There have been “collaborative” but not definitive talks about possible other roles in which Ms. Couric might prove more valuable to CBS News or the CBS family.

-No such talks have been held in recent weeks, because neither side feels pressured to force the issue. Ms. Couric is described by more than one person who knows her as happy with the newscast and her team. CBS News and network management believes she is enjoying the political coverage that dominates the news this winter and is well prepared to see it through to the inauguration of the new president.

-Both sides agree “CBS Evening News” is as good as any of its counterparts and that Ms. Couric’s performance as an anchor is not the issue.

-They also understand that the current ratings are not something that can be accepted for the long term.

CBS and Ms. Couric find themselves deeper than ever in the ratings cellar, despite all the hype and hope that accompanied her September 2006 hire. She came aboard as the first woman to solo in the flagship role previously defined by Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw.

Data from Nielsen Co. for the week of March 31 showed “Evening News” attracting an average 5.9 million viewers, well behind the 8.3 million viewers for “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” and the nearly 8 million drawn to ABC’s “World News With Charles Gibson.” In the key news demographic of 25- to 54-year-old viewers, the 51-year-old Ms. Couric also lagged with a 4.1 rating in the demo, compared to “Nightly’s” 5.6 and “World News’” 5.6.

There is no successor identified for Ms. Couric and it’s entirely possible that she might occupy the “CBS Evening News” anchor desk well past January, the people familiar with the matter say.

The talks about possible options for Ms. Couric—perhaps a talk show or full-time assignment to “60 Minutes” or being released from the unprecedented contract that convinced her to leave NBC’s popular “Today” show after 15 years—were reported by the Washington Post late Wednesday night. That story followed a Wall Street Journal article that updated reports that Ms. Couric might split from CBS before the end of her contract.

In a number of articles Thursday, there was much speculation about the possibility that Ms. Couric might replace Larry King on CNN. While it’s true that one of her best long-time friends, Wendy Walker, is Mr. King’s senior executive producer, one person familiar with Ms. Couric said the CBS anchor considers Mr. King to have been always kind to her and she would not be a party to forcing him from his show, which is CNN’s most popular program.