There’s been a barrage of publicity lately over whether Katie Couric will step down (or be released) from her CBS Evening News anchor duties. Given the extent of the coverage, one could probably assume that will happen. So was taking the job, then, a mistake?
I remember when Katie took the main anchor job at CBS. I asked a close friend of hers why she did it. In my mind, it simply didn’t make sense. I’m not saying leaving The Today Show was a mistake. Katie has tackled that mountain and it’s understandable that she wanted to flex other muscles. Also, boredom and perhaps early morning fatigue seemed to be showing a bit on-air. But taking a job on the staid and boring evening news at a time when audiences were flocking in droves to the internet and elsewhere?
Katie’s real value in being a successful, popular journalist lies in her personality, charm, and humor. She makes you feel like you’re her friend and she makes you laugh in good times and bad with her down to earth, spontaneous comments. Even on paper. In a recent article published in Newsweek magazine, she reflects on the ten-year anniversary of her husband’s death. In the course of a single page, she made me laugh and cry. I ached for her loss—the losses of several friends who have lost husbands in mid-life. That’s why women like, respond to, and watch Katie. How many of those attributes, I wondered, would come into play on an evening newscast—no matter how much you revamped the style and delivery of the thirty-minute show?
In explaining Katie’s decision, her friend told me it was a question of ego—and of wanting to make and leave a mark. Katie wanted to be the first solo news anchor of an evening newscast at one of the main networks. Katie, in short, wanted to make history (if you sense a hint of mockery here, let’s be clear: there’s none. Men have these aspirations all the time. Why is it not ok for a woman to have similar desires? It certainly is ok in my opinion).
To me, Katie’s decision didn’t seem to make sense from a network standpoint either. Why would CBS pay 15 million dollars a year (for five years) for a woman’s talents—when they couldn’t use most of them? Having been a former news anchor, I can say how easy that job is—especially relative to being an out-in-the-field news correspondent. While you might do an interview here and there, participate in the day’s story covering decisions, and even travel to a war zone, as Katie did, at the end of the day, you are a teleprompter reader – no matter what anyone tells you. CBS clearly gambled that Katie’s fans would follow her. But the fact is all love in life is conditional. It’s Katie being Katie that’s so appealing. Not Katie being someone else.
So in hindsight, Katie took the job. She tried to make the newscast her own, changing its style to match her unique way of delivering the day’s events. Audiences were not impressed.
I should point out I met Katie about four years ago. I’d left my job at E! and really wanted to be an entertainment correspondent on The Today Show. I contacted her though a mutual friend and was shocked when we finally spoke and she said she love my tape. She said to come in and meet with her at Rockefeller Center—which I did a few months later. I can still remember sitting cross-legged on her office floor watching my tape together—giggling about the people I was interviewing and sharing personal and some rather off color stories! Long story short, the job never happened as Katie was at odds with the Executive Producer on Today and he didn’t take too kindly to her hiring suggestions (he later got fired—duh!). But suffice to say, I’m a huge fan of hers, and she definitely inspired me as an up and coming newscaster. She showed me I didn’t have to report feeling like I had a straight jacket on, but could actually show my personality and just be myself.
But, truth be told, not even I could not be part of Katie’s CBS news audience. At that time of night, my kids are coming home from sports and or school and there’s homework and dinner to contend with. It just doesn’t work with our schedule. Also, by the time the evening newscasts are on, I’ve already been filled in on current events, having checked my customized Yahoo news home page several times throughout the day. At that stage in the game, also, I don’t want to see the ugly video clips—and I certainly don’t want my sons to see them. I’ve concluded that actually seeing the violence does nothing to enhance my life. Hearing about it is enough.
So, was it a mistake? I think not. Growing is about changing. Katie needed growth and, even though her CBS endeavor hasn’t exactly been a success, I think she probably grew personally and professionally from it. She certainly got a chance to enjoy quality time with her two teenage daughters, which, I think is as important as leaving a mark on history. Her career, like everyone’s, will ebb and flow. Each move we make leads us to something different and new. Life is a journey, not a destination.
Quite frankly, I’m excited for Katie at this exact moment. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
By Linda Grasso