Pressure to Deliver

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

Even if you're not normally one of the 25 million people who still bother to watch the evening news, you may well tonight.

That's because the debut of Katie Couric on CBS is something of a milestone, although a far less significant one than it might have been in the days of Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow.

Couric becomes the first woman to anchor solo and has the highest salary ever given to an anchor, reportedly more than $15 million a year.

An editorial in today's L.A. Times says CBS is getting as much as it can for the money. Not only will she be the dominant face and voice of CBS News on TV and radio, she'll be responsible for a 'Couric & Company' blog, a daily interview session on the Web, a video clip alerting viewers to breaking stories and an e-mail version of the clip. The news broadcast will be carried live on the Web, too.

"If anything, though, the anchors are just playing catch-up," the editorial says. "With viewership dropping steadily over the years, the Big Three networks' news divisions have been pushing their products onto other screens, on computers, mobile phones and other portable devices."

In Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Brooks Barnes wrote that the 49-year-old Couric "is under incredible pressure to deliver."

The real question is "whether CBS has finally figured out a way to lead the aging evening news programs out of their prolonged slump."

CBS, whose evening news program is in third place nationally behind those of NBC and ABC, is hoping it can "attract people who haven't even thought about the evening news shows in years."

The Journal says advertisers spent about $400 million last year to reach network news audiences. "But the picture is bleak: Together, the three half-hour shows have lost half of their audience in the past two decades and they continue to shrink; the median age of the viewers is 60."

Julie Hinds writes in The Detroit Free Press today that Couric, a star from her long reign on the Today show, has enough celebrity wattage to draw younger consumers to the evening news.

A recent Pew Research Center poll showed Couric is more widely known by viewers than her competition, NBC's Brian Williams and ABC's Charles Gibson. It also revealed, not surprisingly, that people use words to describe Couric, such as "cute" and "perky," that they don't for the guys.

Whatever it takes, I guess.

Hinds writes that Couric will be heavily scrutinized not only on her first-night ratings but on her clothes and her hair.

At the TV critics' tour in Pasadena in July, Couric bristled at a question about what she planned to wear on her new job. "You're kidding, right?" she asked.

Gloria Goodale, in today's Christian Science Monitor, reports that Couric believes audiences don't care about news anchors' personal style. Couric said in July that audiences "want us to go a little deeper."

But Couric's effort to downplay her looks was hurt last week when it was revealed that a CBS promotional magazine retouched a photo to make Couric look thinner.

In today's Boston Globe, Joanna Weiss writes that, in honor of its new anchor, the CBS Evening News has undergone a makeover of its own: A new set, a cinematic theme song by Titanic composer James Horner, and a new set of perpetual-motion, computer-generated graphics, recasting everything from the opening logo to the closing credits.

Designers lifted the curves from the CBS eye and wrapped everything in them, from the teaser videos at the top of the show to the images that will appear over Couric's shoulder as she introduces a story.


With a woman as anchor?

I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

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



Nick Madigan