Katie Couric is doing so badly on The CBS Evening News that even Dan Rather can give his opinion on why she is such a flop without it seeming like sour grapes. No doubt, Rather has been nursing his grievances since he was dropped in favor of America’s $15 million-a-year sweetheart. These days he obviously thinks he can just join the chorus of all those dumping on Katie. And with reason. The recent May sweeps period was a disaster for Couric, who lost more viewers and costs more per viewer than the two other network anchors. In fact, a week or so ago, Katie attracted only 5.9 million viewers, making it the first time ever the CBS evening-news program has had an audience of less than six million. By contrast, ABC is doing well with their anchor, Charlie Gibson, a man so bland, you can watch him for years and still not recall his last name.
Dan doesn’t criticize Katie herself because he says “I want to make it clear I have nothing against Katie Couric….She is a very nice person.” Believe that? Of course he has something against Katie who was supposed to bring a fresh new attitude and a lot more viewers to a news program that he had driven down and discredited. But as for Katie being “ a very nice person,” I would say from personal experience, that, yes, she is nicer than Rosie O’Donnell — but not that much nicer.
Rather goes on to say that the real mistake was CBS’s for trying to “dumb[…] down” and “tart up” the news. In response, Les Moonves CBS’s chief executive shot back, declaring that the remarks Rather made about his successor were “sexist,” the all-purpose bash when any man criticizes any woman. On The View, the girls trying to keep being controversial, dumped on Dan, too, for being so “sexist.”
But the problem is CBS has neither “dumbed down” or “tarted up” their broadcast enough, if that is what they were trying to do. In fact, they didn’t do all that much to The Evening News with Katie Couric except add a couple of dumb features and over-promote it. They promised something more interesting than a news format that has been losing viewers for years, and then they didn’t deliver. They promoted Katie as a different kind of anchor as well. In truth, she is different only because she is not nearly as capable as the scores of women broadcasters who competently anchor or co-anchor the local news twice a night all over the country. And who audiences find acceptable.
On Today, Katie was one part perkiness, one part snarkiness, overlayed with occasional forays into gushiness — especially whenever Hillary was on the set. She started out marketing herself to the women of America as your typical “soccer mom.” And that worked for quite a while. But as the years went by and she became more and more glamorous, showing off her trainer-buffed body and swinging her dangling earrings, her toned legs, and Jimmy Choos, at the camera. As her salary and celebrity status grew, she lost a lot of her appeal to the women who had been her fans. By the end of her Today stint, her Q ratings were even lower than, yes, Dan Rather’s! One wonder why CBS, as they handed her buckets of money, never even noticed.
Nowadays watching Katie on the news is painful. She races through the program in a flat sing-song as if she can’t wait to get into her chauffeur-driven car and off to a social event where her ratings won’t be mentioned and her celebrity status will not be questioned. On Sunday, for example, she was the emcee for a charity luncheon for the American Institute of Stuttering on the Queen Mary II where fitness guru Jake Steinfeld and writer Dominick Dunne were the guests of honor.
During the Evening News, as she flits from feature to feature, there is a definite tense look in her still overly made up eyes. You wonder if she is thinking, as the subtext of every story she reports, Why don’t they like me? Why don’t the really like me? From her first broadcast, Katie as anchor was a distraction from the news. Watching her you were more interested in her accessories than the headlines. Now Katie, imploding anchor, is even more distracting.
She is also getting beaten up for giving a commencement speech at Williams where she piously declared “The proliferation of celebrity magazines makes Lindsey Lohan’s latest stint in rehab seem more important than what’s happening in Darfur…. The kind of fluff that accosts us on the newsstand may seem like harmless fun, but it should also come with a warning label that says it can rot your mind and distort your values.” Then last week she gave more airtime on her broadcast to Paris Hilton getting out of jail then all but one other story — more airtime than either of her competitors gave the heiress.
No doubt, the Katie-Dan feud will be a headline in next week’s celebrity magazines. And I doubt if Les Moonves will mind. Isn’t the lesson of The View that celebrity catfights are good for ratings?