Couric Ready to Take Solo Reins

Jun 5, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The “CBS Evening News” is going to get a new musical theme, a new set, a new salutation and new graphics this fall when it gets its new anchor, Katie Couric.

But Ms. Couric, addressing her new extended family of local station executives last week at the 2006 CBS affiliates meeting, assured them that “Evening News” is not getting a new Katie Couric.

Ms. Couric said she didn’t need to change to prove she has the gravitas and chops to be the first woman to solo as anchor of a flagship newscast.

“I think that’s a side of me that has had a lot of exposure” during 15 years as co-host of NBC’s “Today” morning show, she said at the meeting in Las Vegas during a playful interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl. The two women started their chat with a big screech of feedback during a hug that brought their microphones too close for auditory comfort.

Ms. Stahl asked Ms. Couric if she has settled on a signature sign-off message, a la Walter Cronkite’s “And that’s the way it is.” Ms. Couric said she hasn’t and joked, “Thought maybe, ‘Peace out, homies.'”

Ms. Couric said she’s unlikely to kick off the top of the show with a “Good evening.”

“Who says that but waiters?” she asked the lunch crowd.

Ms. Couric’s humor survived a draining day of emotion and travel stress before her Las Vegas meeting on Thursday. Hours after her last appearance on “Today” that attracted an estimated 19 million viewers, Ms. Couric boarded a commercial flight in New York, only to have it delayed. She arrived in Las Vegas near midnight Wednesday but by the next day looked none the worse for it.

She impressed the crowd.

One woman risked being shunned when she prefaced a question by declaring herself a fan who had watched “Today” rather than “The Early Show” on CBS because of Ms. Couric.

After the group’s burst of laughter subsided, the woman asked Ms. Couric if she’s nervous about her “Evening News” debut.

Ms. Couric replied that she doesn’t “want to get so nervous that it ruins my month off” before reporting for full-time duty at CBS News.

Ms. Couric’s comments on television journalism may set off howls from some in the business. Some news broadcasters simply present opposing spins on the truth rather than seek out the heart of stories, she said. That tendency may be driven by laziness or fear of alienating one group or another, Ms. Couric said.

More health and medicine coverage will be cultivated on “Evening News,” she said.

Ms. Couric reassured the Las Vegas crowd that “Evening News” would continue to cover the news of the day when she said she’d recently conveyed the same message to former newscaster Walter Cronkite at a dinner with him and his girlfriend, opera singer Joanna Simon.

Mr. Cronkite did not offer any advice, Ms. Couric said. Ms. Simon, however, passed along a way to gauge success.

According to Ms. Couric, Ms. Simon advised: “You know you’ve succeeded when people say really bad things about you. You know you’ve really succeeded when they say bad things about you being a lesbian.”

To pave the way for Ms. Couric, CBS is planning to aggressively promote her new role later in the summer, network Marketing Group President George Schweitzer told the affiliates.

“A station tie-in campaign is at the top of our list,” Mr. Schweitzer said.