Couric Tries to Lower Expectations of Success

After months of encouraging media hype, incoming "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric is now trying to downplay expectations that she'll bring viewers to the last-place network nightly.

Katie Couric won't be altering her look. She won't be going off to war merely to read the news while "standing somewhere in a flak jacket." And most of all, she isn't expecting any big "surge" in ratings for CBS Evening News With Katie Couric this fall.

As the network's promotional blitz for its new $60 million anchorwoman kicks into high gear, Couric, who will debut in her new role Sept. 5, yesterday launched a counter-campaign of sorts, ratcheting down expectations and softening the drumbeat of hype.

Though Couric and executive producer Rome Hartman seemed in accord yesterday during a telephone news conference, Couric adeptly tamped down some of the buzz that has surrounded her since she stepped down in May as co-anchor of NBC's Today show. She also tried to lower public expectations about her new role at CBS. [...]

Beginning with Tom Brokaw's retirement as NBC anchorman in December 2004, there have been sweeping changes at all the network anchor desks. Brokaw was succeeded by Brian Williams. Last May, Charles Gibson became the anchorman at ABC. Now the last of the new guard finally will be in place when Couric begins her new job. And Nielsen ratings for the evening news will be dissected for any possible hint at who will rule in the new order.

"I don't expect there to be a huge ratings surge, and I'm honestly not focused on that," Couric said. "This is a business, obviously, and I'm not naive, but I hope quality begets quantity, and that people will want to see what we're up to. ... There are changes obviously at ABC, and I think we all have an opportunity to make the evening newscasts on all three networks more vibrant and to reinvigorate them."

Lee Thornton, a former CBS White House correspondent who now holds the Eaton Chair in broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland, said it was wise of Couric to not predict instant ratings success: "I am among those who think she will have to build an audience - that's the way it generally works in network news."

In another interview with media, Couric continued the same line:

Katie Couric didn't miss a beat Monday when someone described the "CBS Evening News" as being in the ratings basement for years.

"Well, we prefer to call it the ratings rec room," joked Couric, deftly fielding questions from reporters via telephone. The session was tied to her Sept. 5 debut as top CBS anchor.

Couric insisted she's not focused on ratings. "I just really am interested in building a quality newscast that is willing to, when appropriate, take some risks and try some new things," she said.

Hat tip: TVNewser.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013