Couric leaving “Today” for CBS News
By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) – “Today” show host Katie Couric
announced her departure from NBC on Wednesday to join rival CBS
News and become the first sole woman anchor of a major U.S.
network evening newscast.
Couric, 49, told her “Today” audience she was leaving at
the end of May, after 15 years in which she helped win the
morning ratings war and generate about $600 million in revenue
annually for NBC, a unit of General Electric Co..
She is one of the highest-paid figures in American
television. Speculation about her future has generated intense
attention due to her popularity, the economic interests at
stake for all three major networks and the landmark nature of
CBS said Couric will anchor “Evening News,” taking over the
chair once occupied by Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, and
contribute to the news-magazine show “60 Minutes.”
CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer has been filling in on
the newscast for Rather, who stepped down last year with his
legacy clouded by a botched “60 Minutes II” report on U.S.
President George W. Bush’s military record.
“After listening to my heart and my gut, two things that
have served me pretty well in the past, I’ve decided I’ll be
leaving ‘Today’ at the end of May. … It may sound kind of
corny but I really feel that we’ve become friends through the
years,” Couric told her viewers.
The shake-up is seen as both a coup and a big risk for CBS,
which will replace a tradition of venerable war correspondents
in the anchor chair with someone whose career was built on the
softer topics of the modern morning show.
Critics say CBS is pouring millions of dollars into a
bygone era of pre-eminent broadcast news, when the Internet and
24-hour cable TV have cut into its influence.
“Nobody believes in network news anymore. This helps CBS
maintain the show until they figure out how to get out of
network news,” said media critic Michael Wolff.
CBS said Couric’s hiring would help give the “Evening News”
a “fresh, accessible approach” and cited her experience
interviewing world leaders and other newsmakers.
“Seasoned broadcasters who are at once respected,
charismatic and known throughout this country and beyond are
increasingly important in this fragmented media landscape,” CBS
President Leslie Moonves said in a release.
“Today” has ranked as the No. 1 network morning show for
more than a decade, making it one of NBC’s most important
Couric, the longest-serving host in the program’s 54-year
history, signed a 4 1/2-year renewal deal with NBC in 2001
estimated to be worth about $60 million.
GE stock was down 0.6 percent in midday trade and CBS was
up 0.1 percent while the Dow index was flat and the S&P 500 was
up 0.2 percent.
NBC was near agreement with Meredith Vieira, co-host of
ABC’s talk show “The View,” to succeed Couric, the New York
Times reported, but NBC had no announcement
Broadcast-news analyst Andrew Tyndall said Couric’s hiring
made little sense, considering that CBS has identified online
and cell-phone platforms as new business areas.
“Katie Couric does not help in this endeavor. It looks
backward, not forward. It’s a misappropriation of resources,”
Three women — Barbara Walters in the 1970s on ABC, Connie
Chung on CBS in the 1990s and more recently Elizabeth Vargas on
ABC — have worked as co-anchors with men on weeknight network
newscasts. Couric would be the first woman to hold the anchor
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)