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FROM THIS EPISODE

Hold the Prattling

For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

There was a big story this morning in all the important newspapers: It ran in the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. It ran all over the place. Our paper and The Washington Post put it on the front page.

What was the big deal?

It was the news that, some time this week, we may be told for certain that later this year Katie Couric will leave NBC's Today show, bound for the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News. The move has been rumored for months.

In the grand scheme of things, it would not seem to be terribly significant. But from the coverage, you would think Couric was running for president. Gail Shister, writing in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer, said the buzz on Couric's new contract at CBS is that it'll be worth $39 million over three years.

All that to sit and read the news. I should have gone into television.

In today's Washington Post, Howard Kurtz wrote that Couric's departure from NBC after 15 years on the Today show "has been the focus of intense media speculation both because of her celebrity and the historic nature of the move. Three women (Connie Chung at CBS and Barbara Walters and Elizabeth Vargas at ABC) have co-anchored alongside men. But Couric would be the first woman in broadcast network history to fly solo."

Kurtz said that "an impassioned debate has flourished about whether the skills that have made Couric such a successful morning personality would translate on a terser, more tightly scripted evening newscast."

Brooks Barnes, in today's Wall Street Journal, said Couric's departure might inspire Matt Lauer to leave when his contract expires in 2008.

"One star leaving Today is one thing," Barnes wrote. "Both hosts leaving in quick succession presents NBC, already in crisis mode with its troubled prime-time schedule, with a nightmare scenario."

Another pessimistic view came from Marisa Guthrie, in today's New York Daily News. She said some TV observers expect that Couric's arrival at CBS "will give the third-place newscast a quick ratings bump, but little more."

Guthrie quoted Bill McLaughlin, a former CBS News correspondent, as saying the network "will inevitably pick up viewers in the beginning because of the curiosity factor, but I can't see that sustaining."

Guthrie wrote that Couric has been criticised "largely because of her willingness to be goofy and sexy on one hand while being serious on the other." I have to agree. She also has a habit of talking too much during interviews, when viewers might actually prefer to be listening to the person sitting opposite her.

That won't work on the evening news, where there's less time for prattling.

Even Walter Cronkite, the archetypal CBS anchor, weighed in on the subject, advising the network to keep Bob Schieffer where he is.

In January, Matthew Felling, who works at the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, wrote a public letter to CBS in which he asked the network to "reconsider this public flirtation" with Katie Couric.

Felling said that, on the Today show, "Couric rarely lets pass an opportunity to bring herself into the story."

He cited an interview on December 12 with a scientist who talked about artificial sweeteners. Couric said: "I actually asked for this segment, because, personally, it's all about me. I use Splenda a lot, and I used to use Equal."

When her 49th birthday was looming in January, Felling said, "the significance of that particular day was mentioned every day, a few times a day."

"The tone and skills she has honed perfectly on the Today show would never work on the CBS Evening News," Felling said. "You don't interrupt John Roberts broadcasting from the Czech Republic to point out how 'Prague' sounds like 'Prada.'"

Katie, it's time to get serious.

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

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