The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric has just fallen to the lowest rating in the history of broadcast TV news, since the Neilsen company began keeping track of audience size decades ago.
She moved from the Today Show on NBC to the principal anchor’s chair at CBS in September of 2006...a chair sat in by Dan Rather for years, and before him, Walter Cronkite, the anchorman’s anchorman. After an initial spike in the ratings for a week or so as the curious tuned in, it’s been pretty much downhill all the way.
Why did Katie fail? Because she was mis-cast by the old boys who run network television. On the Today Show, Katie succeeded because her bubbly personality, her penchant for letting the viewers in on her personal drama, and her tenacity to “land the big interview” were on display every weekday morning.
When she switched to the anchor chair of a nightly newscast, no more bubbly Katie. A faux seriousness characterized her stilted delivery, and people who tuned in to see Katie read the news were disappointed. Suddenly, she was a “serious journalist” rather than an interesting personality.
The old boys should have known it, and Katie should have known it. She was the queen of morning TV, and has ended as the pawn of nightly news. She is in a role which does not suit her strengths, and in a position where she can’t change the rigid structure of the platform from which she performs.
It was also a move from which it is difficult to retrace your steps, like the vaunted big-time college coach who fails in the NFL, and ends up at a Division 2 school.
There are a lot of different ways to crater a broadcast. One way, as in Katie’s situation, is to grossly mis-cast the principal role. Another, as the local print and radio companies have done, is to fire your best talent to save a few bucks.
Either way, the result is the same. It’s a death of a thousand cuts, versus a massive heart attack.