CBS sticking with Couric for whole game


NEW YORK -- Katie Couric's one-year anniversary as anchor of "CBS Evening News" finds her in Iraq and Syria reporting from the front lines and not answering questions about how poorly the newscast has been doing in the ratings since she started.

Couric's surprise trip to Iraq was planned in absolute secrecy but timed a week ahead of the report U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will give on the progress of the war. Couric scored an interview with President Bush on his surprise trip to Iraq over the Labor Day Weekend.

Couric's stint at "CBS Evening News" started with promise, a new approach to the traditional newscast that the network hoped would bring in and keep the millions of viewers who have turned away from the evening newscasts. But it has turned into a $15 million-a-year disappointment so far for CBS, which has found itself remaining in third place even with the former morning star in the anchor chair.

But CBS isn't throwing up its hands. The makeover of "CBS Evening News" has been spiked and executive producer Rome Hartman reassigned in favor of veteran Rick Kaplan, who has made the newscast much more harder-edged and newsy. That has been a constant theme since Kaplan took over in March, one that easily was in evidence to dedicated viewers long before Couric and Kaplan left for Iraq last week.

"I look at us right now being in the top of the second inning at the latest," CBS News president Sean McManus said in an interview last week. "This is a long, long process, and I'm extremely pleased at the quality of our show. I put our show up against any national newscast. I'm very proud of it."

Critics have since last year questioned CBS' decision to completely make over the evening newscast, turning over valuable airtime to such experiments as "Free Speech" and Couric's newsmaker interviews. That's over now, with CBS dropping the experiment and hoping its core viewers who were happy with former anchors Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer return.

Network news analyst Andrew Tyndall said the entry of Couric into the evening news, which was coupled with "Good Morning America" co-anchor Charles Gibson's move to the ABC evening newscast, did shake up what had been a stagnant race among the networks, with NBC on top, ABC a close second and CBS far behind.

"The idea that presumably CBS had was that by giving (Couric's arrival) some buzz and excitement, the beneficiary of that shake-up would be her," Tyndall said. "They got the buzz and excitement, but they didn't get the benefit." Viewers left NBC, but after a short tryout period with CBS, they gave ABC's "World News" their vote, and it has been on top for the entire calendar year 2007.

McManus said CBS is disappointed by the ratings -- not only are they down from Schieffer's tenure, but they've also been historic lows for "CBS Evening News" -- but they're not dwelling on it.

"We have the right show, the right anchor, the right team in place," McManus said. "I don't think anyone is hanging their head discouraged or saying this is a disaster."