Katie Couric and CBS finally got down to business Tuesday night. Personable, perky business.
Trading in her Today show pastels for a black sheath and white blazer, Couric made her long-awaited debut as anchor of the CBS Evening News, signing on with a simple, "Hi, everyone. I'm very happy to be with you tonight," before plunging into a story about the fight against Taliban extremists in Afghanistan.
And just in case anyone wasn't planning on staying for the entire show, CBS--whose third-place broadcast sorely needs a shot in the arm--was prepared.
Before Couric had even taken her seat with network legend Walter Cronkite intoning, "This is the CBS Evening News, with..." etc., etc., the first female anchor to ever helm a network newscast on her own scored her first straight-to-Internet coup. Standing beside a video screen, running through the night's big stories, Couric informed us that, later in the broadcast, we'd be seeing a picture of Suri Cruise.
Sure enough, in a segment entitled "Snap Shots," Couric unveiled the October Vanity Fair cover featuring Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and daughter Suri.
Way to set the bar high, Katie. Not only was that a great get, but you also ushered in a new era of belief in Suri Cruise's existence.
Overall, however, as the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz wrote afterward, "The journalistic quality was pretty high." Along with the massive Internet presence that CBS has rolled out to go along with the revamped Evening News, Couric introduced several new features during the half-hour broadcast and started off with a three-minute analytical story, rather than your standard hard news recap.
What was most striking to critics about the broadcast (and no, it wasn't the jazzy graphics--or Suri) was the time spent on fewer stories. "More 60 Minutes than Cronkite headline service," Kurtz said about the lengthier-than-usual clip of a sit-down between Couric and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, extensive footage of a correspondent at the scene of a story about oil prices, and the Andy Rooney-ish "Free Speech" segment featuring Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock ranting about news pundits.
Speaking of which, Rush Limbaugh has taped an op-ed segment that's set to air Thursday.
"It's probably going to be a win-win, ladies and gentlemen," the right-wing radio host told his listeners Tuesday. "I understand some of you are upset. 'All you're going to do is increase viewership for Katie!' Yeah, but at the same time, viewers of the CBS Evening News will hear things that they probably haven't heard and don't expect to hear on the network. I don't want to build it up. It's just 90 seconds."
Suri's gonna be a touch act to follow, though, and she doesn't even talk yet.
To solve two of the biggest conundrums regarding network news these days, one being declining ratings across the board, CBS has turned to the Internet. Just in case you can't get to a TV, the CBS Evening News is getting simulcasted online and is available for on-demand viewing afterward at CBSNews.com. A blog, Website-exclusive interviews and Katie Couric's Notebook, a more in-depth look at one of the day's top stories, are some of the other features CBS has come up with to scratch some itch that every other 24/7 news source out there may have failed to scratch.
The other conundrum, of course, is the question of what signature signoff a lead anchor should go with. At the end of Tuesday's newscast, Couric asked for viewers to go online and enter their suggestions as to what her last words each evening should be.
In an upbeat ending to her first night on the job, Couric played a handful of clips featuring some of the most renowned signoffs in the business, both real and fake, from Edward R. Murrow's "Good night, and good luck" to Ron Burgundy's "You stay classy, San Diego."
Which may not have been the most elegant way to close the broadcast, but it sure made for a perky goodbye.