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Couric Gets Murrow’s Blessing

Jul 6, 2008  •  Post A Comment

“The CBS Evening News With Katie Couric” has been a lightning rod for discussion ever since Ms. Couric sat down in the anchor chair in September 2006, first for the initial softness of the format rebuilt for her and then for the ratings that slid until the flagship CBS newscast was deeper in third place than it had ever been before.
It finished the just-concluded second quarter with an average 5.60 million viewers, according to data from Nielsen Media Research. “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” was credited with an average 7.98 million viewers, while ABC’s “World News With Charles Gibson” averaged 7.67 million viewers.
“Evening News,” which had been expected to gain younger viewers with Ms. Couric’s presence, averaged 1.7 million viewers in the news demographic target of 25- to 54-year-old viewers, while “Nightly News” averaged 2.4 million in the demo and “World News” averaged 2.3 million.
Then last week, the Radio-Television News Directors Association named “Evening News” the best newscast when it announced its annual Edward R. Murrow Awards, an honor that invokes the spirit of the legendary CBS News pioneer.
TelevisionWeek National Editor Michele Greppi spoke last week with “Evening News” executive producer Rick Kaplan, who was hired in March 2007 to put the newscast back on a more traditional hard-news footing. The edition of “Evening News” submitted to the RTNDA was just “an average ‘Evening News’ broadcast.”
In the interview, he talked about why it’s nice to have outside confirmation of his conviction that “Evening News” is doing well, why he believes the Murrow Award is a harbinger of viewers to come, and why there’d been no real celebration yet.
TVWeek: How are you feeling?
Rick Kaplan: I’m good. I’m in a really good mood, actually.
TVWeek: Why?
Mr. Kaplan: You work your butt off and you know you’re doing well. Sometimes it’s just nice when people on the outside recognize it. It doesn’t happen all that often, even when you’re in first place. So when something as prestigious as this happens, it’s like, “Wow. That’s just great.” We know we’re doing well, we know we have a great show. We’re just really proud. Katie works really hard. The correspondents and producers work really hard. It’s extra help. There’s only so many times you can pat everybody on the back and pass out donuts …
TVWeek: Wait a minute. This is supposed to be a Q&A. Wait for the question about how you celebrated.
Mr. Kaplan: … No, we didn’t. You don’t even have to hand out champagne.
TVWeek: What are you going to do to celebrate?
Mr. Kaplan: I don’t know. July 4 is this week. Normally we would have a Friday conference call, but Friday is July 4. We’re going to do the call on Thursday, but we’re going to talk election planning on Friday. That’s kind of a serious thing. We’ll just applaud for each other on Thursday. Everybody has been exuberant. Everybody’s been high-fiving each other. The e-mails have been flying back and forth from show to show and producer to producer. I’ve gotten tons of wonderful e-mails from colleagues at other networks, as have my CBS colleagues.
TVWeek: How many people allude to, or flat-out address, the irony of you and your folks having been a lightning rod in so many different ways and then you get this award?
Mr. Kaplan: When you are one of us, you know and everybody knows that, frankly, all three network broadcasts are pretty damn good. Everybody knows that “The CBS Evening News” is as good as or better than any other program. In fact, most nights, I’ll say arrogantly, we’re as good as or better than the other guys on a very regular basis. It’s not like it’s unknown within the business what’s going on. When you’re not doing well, you know it, and this kind of [Murrow Award] thing would be shocking, you know, like, “What the hell is anybody thinking?” It’s just time to sit back and look at each other. I can’t tell you what a wonderful aura there is around everybody today through the building.
TVWeek: Is there a way to turn the aura into something more concrete? How can you use this moment?
Mr. Kaplan: What I’ve been preaching from the day I got here a year and a half ago was that this is a long haul. When I was at ABC, it took 3 1/2 long years for Peter Jennings to become No. 1. Tom Brokaw took 13 years. You know the numbers as well as I. These are news audiences and they always react slowly.
When I was working with Jeff Gralnick on “World News Tonight,” we were doing a great program. We’d come walking upstairs to Roone [Arledge]. We were a little down in the mouth because we were in third place. But we would look at him and say, “This program is as great as or better than anyone else is doing,” and he would be in a great mood. He’d say, “Why aren’t you in a great mood?” We’d say, “We’re working really hard.” He’d say, “And it’s paying off. No show that is great stays in last place. It takes time and you guys have to have patience for that, because the audience will find you.”
We’re doing this not quite two years yet, and it was a rocky beginning. We’ve got to just keep working at it. That’s what we preach here. Keep your head down. Keep working. Keep busting your butt. I have a determined anchorwoman and there are no time limits on this. Good news will happen, and I’m not going to be surprised. The country is going to discover [“Evening News”] all over again. I’ve got a great set of bosses in Sean McManus and ultimately Leslie Moonves, and they have been up-front and stand-up about it. They have never hidden behind anything. These guys are with us. They’re going to keep being with us, and we are not going to let them down. What this does, it just makes everybody redouble their efforts. It says they’re right.
TVWeek: It’s been a while since there were any rumors about you and/or Katie being headed for the door. Do you want to address directly that nibbling campaign?
Mr. Kaplan: No. It’s not worth it. Why would I give them any credence now? Those rumors were never true before. They aren’t true now. They’re not going to be true in the future. And eventually, those rumors will be asked about anchors and producers and executives at other networks. We’re used to getting shot at. n

3 Comments

  1. Having been a recipient of Murrow Awards for the past year, I salute Couric for bagging the Murrow Award for Best Newscast.. expect a rating jump in the next months.. more people should watch the broadcast.. it’s better than ABC and NBC

  2. Rick “Tailwind” Kaplan, the architect for CNN’s demise along with other networks is to be believed! Hot air and NO substance. He is a self-promoting blow-hard who has a track record of failures along with his outright LIES. A sickening article to read. The “Perky One” is a joke, and Murrow is SPINNING IN HIS GRAVE!

  3. What a relief to discover a post that could be finally in fact significance reading! I’ve been looking for all-around in relation to this subject except men and women now put rubbish posts, or brief worthless article. I have seen a couple vids on youtube but it’s now the equivalent as reading a good post.

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