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Katie's Waves

This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore Watching Television for KCRW.

You know, lately I've been hung up on the ripple effects from Katie Couric leaving NBC's Today show for CBS News. Except, this isn't ripples -- this is waves!

Why, just one day after Katie made her decision official a month ago, NBC named her successor: Meredith Vieira, plucked from ABC's weekday chat show The View and the syndicated quiz Who Wants to be a Millionaire. What further repercussions loom? Katie set in motion a chain reaction whose end is nowhere in sight. Will gas prices go higher? Will Rumsfeld get the boot? Will your kid get into the right college? The forces Katie unleashed just might have the final say.

Of course, Katie's ceremonial sendoff from Today weeks from now should be starting any moment. After that ... The buildup for her coronation, come fall, as CBS Evening News anchor, not to mention her new 60 Minutes correspondent duties.

What will Katie Couric as big cheese at The House Murrow Built mean for television news? What about the fact that she's a TV star identified not so much with hard news as with her perky wakeup manner ... her twinkling eyes and toothy smile ... and a voice that can reassuringly purrr out the gravest story?

Even months from opening night, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric not only has each of us laying odds on her journalistic performance, but also how she's likely to perform in the marketplace. After her 10-year winning streak on Today, how will Katie score at the dinner hour on CBS? Is her superstar status transferable? Will she boost the ratings of this perennially third-place newscast ... or be humbled?

We'll be chewing on those questions all summer. But one question -- is Katie worth her reported $13-million- to $15-million-per-year salary? -- that's a no-brainer.

Already Katie Couric is earning her keep at CBS, and she isn't even there yet. Without our even noticing, she already has tackled CBS News' most vexing problem: its image.

Just the prospect of Katie Couric as the face of CBS News has washed away the stain of Dan Rather, who for so long brought grief to CBS as TV news' supreme whipping boy. Scapegoat of conservatives and media haters, the beleaguered Rather left the Evening News a year ago for refuge at 60 Minutes. While the world awaited his replacement to be named, Bob Schieffer did temp duty.

Now, as his designated successor, Katie is due a measure of right-wing sniping, even before her seat hits the anchor chair. But c'mon! Katie used to emcee Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. She's a friend of Elmo!

And thanks to Katie, when CBS News is mentioned, the subject will no longer be changed automatically, often hatefully, to Dan Rather. For decades he did great work, but with Katie Couric's pen stroke on that CBS contract, her ripple effect turned "Dan Rather" into "Old What's-His-Name?" He's yesterday's news. Now it's all about Katie, America's sweetheart. For CBS News, in such dire need of an image makeover, she's money well spent.

Watching Television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.

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