Drudge is linking to this New York Magazine article on Katie Couric and teasing a story where she slapped a CBS producer for inserting the word “sputum” into the nightly newscast.
As entertaining as that incident might be, I thought these three excerpts were a little more relevant. First up, the new direction of CBS News with Katie Couric:
Less than a year ago, Couric and Moonves seemed like the answers to each other’s prayers: She wanted a more serious news profile—just like her arch-rival Diane Sawyer, who last year was vying for the evening-news job at ABC (she lost out to Charlie Gibson). Moonves wanted to attract new audiences to the evening news by making it more like entertainment, envisioning a broadcast that was somewhere in between The Naked News, a British TV show in which beautiful women undress as they read the headlines, and “two boring people behind a desk.”
Ultimately, the two agreed that the show should be “more personable, more accessible, a little less formal, a little more approachable,” says Couric. “That certainly is one of the things they found attractive in hiring me, otherwise they could have had John Roberts do the Evening News.” (Roberts, a soap-opera-handsome anchor who was once a candidate to replace Dan Rather, left CBS for CNN in 2006.) During their many private conversations at his Manhattan apartment, Moonves told Couric that she would be given wide latitude to build a new program. He was willing to spend whatever it took to make it successful, including $2.9 million for a shiny new set.
I think far too often Katie Couric takes the full blame for the low ratings. It’s good to remember that changing the format was a management decision and Couric was hired to execute on that plan.
I thought this bit on Couric’s salary was relevant as well:
Most critical to Couric’s clash with her new colleagues was the nearly insurmountable issue of money. The news division at CBS had been whittled down financially over the years, something Rather often complained about when he was the Evening News anchor. In 1991, the budget for the CBS Evening News was about $65 million a year; by 2000, it was closer to $35 million. Producers and correspondents had learned to cut corners and live on the cheap, scrambling for such simple amenities as food at news events like Columbine or Katrina while NBC showed up with its own catering truck. Now Couric’s widely reported $15 million salary (some in the TV industry say it could be closer to $22 million, though Couric and CBS refute that) was taking up a sizable chunk of the total news budget—plus her segments were expensive to shoot. A regular news segment using a single camera and a correspondent might cost about $3,000 to shoot and cut, but sending Couric to anchor from a remote location—requiring hair, makeup, lighting, and three cameras—could cost as much as $40,000.
It’s a double whammy of paying too much for one person in the organization and at the same time, increasing costs for a failing format. And finally, there’s this:
The money issue even followed Couric to 60 Minutes, where she did five segments last season, garnering mixed reviews (too soft on Condoleezza Rice, too hard on John and Elizabeth Edwards). Several veteran correspondents were asked to take considerable pay cuts before and after Couric’s arrival, including, before he died in November 2006, Ed Bradley. Seventy-five-year-old Morley Safer took a 30 percent pay cut (for a reduced workload), and 65-year-old Lesley Stahl was asked to accept a half-a-million-dollar salary decrease during her recent contract negotiations.
McManus says Couric’s salary has nothing to do with the network’s overall news spending, including the salaries of other TV personalities, though he declined to explain precisely how the budgets break down. Asked about the unhappiness of some of her colleagues regarding her pay, Couric says, “I can understand that. Obviously I don’t want to rob Peter to feed Paul. I need strength and intelligence and great people around me, and we have to invest in them. So I’m sorry that perception is there, because it’s not something I came in wanting or believing would happen.”
But that doesn’t go very far in soothing the tensions. As one angry CBS News producer put it, “There’s not a lot of money there because we’re paying for Katie! Let’s not bull****. People are pissed about Katie because she’s soaking up the money and she’s not making any money. I can’t get a raise because Katie Couric is failing on the Evening News? That’s huge.”
This, however, was a Couric-controllable issue. She was well aware of CBS’s fiscal issues and she should not be surprised at the backlash she’s receiving from fellow CBSers.