Couric set to exit NBC after 15 years on “Today”
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Katie Couric is expected to
announce her departure from NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday,
paving the way for her to join rival CBS and become the first
woman sole anchor of a major U.S. network evening newscast,
people close to the situation said.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on
Tuesday Couric would announce her departure from NBC during a
“Today” show broadcast marking her 15th anniversary as co-host
of America’s No. 1 morning program.
They added Couric, 49, has agreed to replace veteran CBS
News correspondent Bob Schieffer in the CBS Evening News anchor
chair he assumed on a temporary basis in March last year after
Dan Rather stepped down.
Rather had come under fire for a botched “60 Minutes II”
report on President George W. Bush’s military record. Before
Rather’s 25-year tenure, the CBS anchor seat was held by
pioneering broadcaster Walter Cronkite.
One well-placed source said Couric would likely mention her
move to CBS when her exit from “Today” is announced on
Wednesday’s telecast. But a formal announcement by CBS is
Couric is one of the most highly paid figures in U.S.
television, signing a 4 1/2-year renewal deal with NBC in
December 2001 that sources said was worth about $60 million.
Couric’s contract with NBC expires on May 31, but sources
said the General Electric Co.-controlled network allowed her to
enter into early direct negotiations with CBS as part of an
amicable parting of the ways.
Speculation about Couric’s future has generated intense
media attention due to her enormous popularity, the economic
interests at stake for all three major networks and the
landmark nature of the move.
Three women — Barbara Walters in the 1970s on ABC, Connie
Chung on CBS in the 1990s and more recently Elizabeth Vargas on
ABC — have been appointed alongside men as co-hosts of a
weeknight newscast on one of the major networks. But Couric
would be the first given the anchor job permanently in her own
Sources said she also would contribute to CBS’ weekly
prime-time news magazine “60 Minutes,” as Rather did.
There was no immediate word on who would replace Couric as
“Today” co-host with Matt Lauer. But speculation has centered
on two NBC News colleagues, Campbell Brown and Natalie Morales,
as well as Meredith Vieira, co-host of ABC’s talk show “The
Keeping Couric in place had been seen as vital to efforts
by “Today” to hold its own against ABC’s “Good Morning
America,” the No. 2 network breakfast show, which narrowed the
ratings gap between the two last spring.
“Today” has ranked as the No. 1 network show in morning
ratings for more than a decade, making it one of NBC’s most
important assets. The news program generates about $250 million
in profit for NBC annually.
Couric’s expected move marks a major coup for CBS chief
Leslie Moonves, who is eager to revamp the evening newscast to
lure younger viewers.
But industry analysts have noted that the third-ranked
network evening newscast has shown marked ratings growth in the
year since Schieffer, 69, took over from Rather.