|Originally Aired: May 31, 2006
Network Television Stations Shuffle New Anchors
|This week, Katie Couric left NBC's "Today" show to anchor the "CBS Evening News," and Charlie Gibson left his morning anchor spot to sit at ABC's "World News Tonight" desk.|
JEFFREY BROWN: ABC News is looking for a little peace and
quiet after a tumultuous and sad year.
PETER JENNINGS, Former Host, "ABC World News
Tonight": Finally this evening, a brief note about change.
JEFFREY BROWN: First came the announcement of Peter
Jennings' lung cancer and his death last August.
ANNOUNCER: This is "World News Tonight" with Bob
Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas.
JEFFREY BROWN: In January, ABC debuted a dual-anchor format,
featuring two young stars of the news division. But barely a month later,
co-anchor Bob Woodruff and a cameraman were grievously wounded in Iraq.
Woodruff's co-anchor, Elizabeth Vargas, carried on without
him. But with her impending maternity leave and the program's viewership down
by nearly one million over the last year, ABC News made a change last week.
ELIZABETH VARGAS, Former Co-Anchor, "World News
Tonight": This is my last broadcast as co-anchor of "World News
CHARLES GIBSON, Host, "World News Tonight": Good
evening. On Memorial Day...
JEFFREY BROWN: On Monday, Charles Gibson became anchor of
the program after spending much of the last 20 years co-hosting "Good Morning
CHARLES GIBSON: The critical thing is that we just get back
to cruising speed, that we be able to do what this news division does very well
without having to look over our shoulders all the time.
JEFFREY BROWN: The 63-year-old Gibson brings nearly 40
years' experience to the broadcast. Come the fall, he'll compete with another
morning veteran making the move to the night: Katie Couric.
The "Today Show" co-anchor's 15-year tenure at the
helm of the NBC News ratings and financial juggernaut ended this morning with a
three-hour tribute. Couric is now heading to CBS News and its evening anchor's
The perennial third-place evening news has shown life of
late, adding viewers under the regency of veteran CBS hand Bob Schieffer, who
has guided the broadcast for 15 months since Dan Rather's departure. Couric,
who will earn a reported $13 million a year, is taking off the month of June
before reporting to work at CBS, in anticipation of re-launching the "CBS
Evening News" in the fall.
Money in the mornings
JEFFREY BROWN: And to help us look behind all of these
recent moves, we're joined by Ken Auletta, who chronicles the news business in
his column for the New Yorker magazine.
Ken, let's begin with the morning programs. How important
are they to their networks?
KEN AULETTA, Columnist, The New Yorker: Oh, they are
critical. In fact, if you look at "Today Show" on NBC, it is the
single most profitable show on all of NBC. Take "E.R.," take the old
"Friends." "Today Show" made more money, $250 million a
year, than any other program on NBC.
So if you look at news and you say, "Well, news
viewership is going down." The evening news is declining, not only in
ratings, but in profitability it still makes money, but not nearly as much, you
say, "Where is the economic engine in news?" It's in the morning.
JEFFREY BROWN: And why is that? Has the audience changed or
grown? What's happened?
KEN AULETTA: It's the one day part in all of network television
which has suffered these audience losses, as people have many more choices, not
just cable but the Internet, the iPod, et cetera. It's a one day part in all of
network television where the audience has actually grown.
And that's in part a reflection of changing lifestyles. More
women are in the workforce, and more people are getting up early to exercise
and have a fuller day. And they want a fix in the morning of the morning shows.
Not just network, by the way. You see it on local. You see
it at 5:00, 6:00 a.m. Those local shows are growing, too.
News over entertainment
JEFFREY BROWN: How have the shows themselves evolved? I
mean, I'm wondering, do they see themselves as entertainment shows, or as news
programs, or some kind of mix?
KEN AULETTA: They see themselves as a hybrid of entertainment
and news, but increasingly you see entertainment crowding out the news.
If you look at the three morning shows, they're very heavy
on entertainment. If you looked at the goodbye for Katie Couric this morning,
three hours, it was -- there was no Iraq. There was no new secretary of
treasury appointed. There was no Afghanistan, or the economy, or
poverty, or anything else. It was all Katie.
And they've become very personality-driven. The assumption
behind that is that, when people wake up in the morning, they want to like
someone. They want to have a Katie, a next-door neighbor with them, Matt, a
next-door neighbor with them, Charlie, Diane.
And they know these people by their first names. It's not
"Rather." It's "Katie." And, therefore, they want people
who are friendly and they want friendly news. They want smiles; they don't want
a lot of investigative reporting.
That's the assumption they make about the audience. There
are a lot of people I know -- myself included -- when I wake up, and I'm
frustrated when I just see -- I don't want cooking lessons in the morning. I
want to find out what happened in the world.
JEFFREY BROWN: So these morning shows are hugely important,
and yet two of their biggest stars, Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson, have left
to go to the evening news. Now, what does that tell you?
KEN AULETTA: Well, what it told me, actually, it's more
personal than it is institutional. In Katie's case, she's done it for 15 years
and was ready to move on.
When you looked at it, NBC tried to keep Katie Couric. They
couldn't keep her on in the morning. She was tired. She had exhausted that
format for her. She wanted some new challenge.
What's the new challenge? There is none in news, unless she
wants to do kind of an entertainment thing. And she came out of a serious news
background, and I think she wanted to use her news muscles.
The only option for her, since the anchor seat was taken at
NBC, was really to go to -- at the time, it was taken at ABC. The only option
for her was to go to CBS and be an anchor there.
In Charlie Gibson's case, he is a good soldier, filled in,
in the morning, for them, and has done it since 1999, which is his second tour
of duty. He wanted to go back to news where he had been. And so, personally, he
wanted to get out. And the delay in that had as much to say about Diane Sawyer
also wanting to get out as it did in the decision at the network.
Sunset for the evening broadcast?
JEFFREY BROWN: You know, of course, there's been a lot of
hand-wringing in recent years about the evening news programs and their future.
I'm wondering, do these moves of major stars to these programs, and the fact
that Bob Schieffer was able to add audience or at least hold it in the last 18
months, is there any new thinking about the economic viability of the news, the
nightly news programs and their audiences?
KEN AULETTA: Well, nightly news, in the scheme of things,
within network news divisions, nightly news has become less important than the
morning news, but it's still important. And it's not just important in terms of
its identity to the network and its history, the Edward R. Murrow, you know,
the Tiffany Network at CBS, Dave Gatwick (ph), Tom Brokaw, John Chancellor,
Peter Jennings at ABC, but it's also important to local stations.
They love that affiliation they have with network news and
with the anchors, who are a big stars. I mean, if you walk through an airport,
as I did some years ago when I was going a book on the networks, with any of
the news anchors, they were bigger celebrities than John Travolta, for
And the reason for that is they're in 10 million homes, each
of them, every night, every night. And it's in your living room. It's not a
movie theater, which doesn't even get 10 million people to watch an entire
movie by John Travolta. So it's an amazing fame and popularity they have and
importance they have in our lives.
JEFFREY BROWN: And it's interesting. There was talk, of
course, about changing the model for these programs, maybe different co-anchors
or a different way of presenting the news, and yet they all seem to have come
back to the main one star anchor.
KEN AULETTA: Well, part of the problem is they say they have
22 minutes. They actually have only about 18.5, after you subtract the
commercials, and the bumpers, and the news, and the promotions.
So the problem becomes it's very little time. And to split
that 18.5 minutes, much of it is with reports from the field, not the anchor,
but to split that among two anchors becomes a real problem.
So it's just a logistical problem for them to have two anchors.
And they tried it at ABC and the idea was that one of them would always be on
the road. And, unfortunately, Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq.
Making a prediction
JEFFREY BROWN: Would you care to make a prediction as to
whether the storms and all these moves at the morning and evening shows are now
KEN AULETTA: No. I mean, I think the interesting thing now,
when you talk about personalities, is what is Diane Sawyer's next move? When
she signed on six years ago for "Good Morning America," she was going
only to do it for six months. Now she seems kind of trapped there.
She can't go to CBS; Katie has that job. She can't go to
NBC; that job is taken. She can't go to ABC; that anchor job is taken. So where
does Diane Sawyer go? That's one of the interesting questions.
The larger question institutionally is: What happens to the
network news division? Will they continue to be driven by those morning shows? And
will those morning shows continue to soften up and introduce more and more
entertainment values to those news divisions?
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Ken Auletta, thanks again.
KEN AULETTA: My pleasure.