Popularity Contest: Katie Couric for Prom Queen

Saturday, April 12, 2008
(Second in the series beginning with “Popularity Contest:  Barack Obama for Student Council President,” published April 5, 2008.)

Corporate America has a tendency to make exceptional things mediocre.  Katie Couric is one of them – not personally, but her public persona as the anchor for the CBS Evening News.

I’m a big fan of Katie whose intelligent reporting and ingratiating way made NBC’s Today Show worth watching.  And so I followed her when she moved to CBS a year and half ago, to the point of watching back to back newscasts, first by Brian Williams at 6:30 PM, and then Katie at 7 o’clock which is how they play in my market.

Her first few shows were an excellent beginning, like mini-versions of “60 Minutes” – “30 Minutes” some reviewers called it – but with personality worth watching.  The format wasn’t perfect, but had the potential to offer us, finally, a more interesting, more informative take, not just on the news in the simplest sense, but on what was really happening.

Unfortunately, because ratings did not immediately respond, CBS News senior management proceeded to do its spineless, least creative best to force the format, and Katie with it, into becoming one more talking head.  Apparently, none of these wuskids ever took “Marketing 101:  Product Differentiation,” nor were the aware of the legendary, albeit slow to catch on successes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Seinfeld,” and, more recently, “30 Rock.”  I know they’re not news shows, but the examples are still valid.

And now they wonder why they’re still in third place.  In the process of making their product ordinary, they reduced the ratings to nothing more than a popularity contest, and lost.  Imitation may be flattering, but it’s not necessarily smart business in a creative medium like television.  Katie Couric is not supposed to be Brian Williams with you know what.  She is her own person whose unique talents should have been nurtured and given time to attract the attention they deserve.

Not wanting to blame themselves, they’re replacing the one good thing the Evening News has going for it.  Sad to report, and with considerable irony, between anchor and network management, Katie is the only one with balls.

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