Couric makes `CBS Evening News’ debut
NEW YORK – After Katie Couric was introduced on her first night as “CBS Evening News” anchor by a Walter Cronkite voiceover, she delivered a fast-moving newscast that the legendary newsman might have found unrecognizable.
“Hi, everyone,” she began. “I’m very happy to be with you tonight.”
The rest of Tuesday’s show featured outsiders delivering commentary, the first public pictures of Suri Cruise, a lengthy exclusive on the Taliban and Couric asking viewers for help in crafting a distinctive signoff.
At the end of her historic show as the first female face of network news, she was leaning up against the edge of her anchor desk, laughing at something said to her offscreen.
Couric’s long-awaited debut capped a tumultuous period for the evening news. For more than two decades, the network news was dominated by Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather. Now, Couric will compete against Brian Williams at top-rated NBC and Charles Gibson at ABC.
She arrived at CBS after 15 years as NBC’s “Today” show host, where she was accustomed to always being first in the ratings. The “CBS Evening News” is third, but Couric has said that could be liberating, offering a chance to try new things in a format she has called formulaic.
That willingness was apparent even before the first commercial break ó this was not a stentorian reading off dozens of news headlines.
On a relatively slow news day, CBS opened with chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan being escorted by a Taliban commander to view soldiers displaying their weapons less than 10 miles from a U.S. base.
Logan, dressed in black with only part of her face visible, was heard asking one of her guides, “Am I allowed to smile?”
That story segued into a conventional report by White House correspondent Jim Axelrod on a speech given by President Bush on the terrorist threat.
Incorporating her “Today” interviewing experience, Couric then brought New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman into the studio for a brief discussion on the terrorist threat.
“Things seemed to be going well in Afghanistan,” she said. “What happened? Why is it unraveling now?”
In almost breathless fashion, she zipped through a handful of headlines: a corporate turnover at Ford, mourning over the killed “crocodile hunter” ó all before the first commercial.
Couric also introduced “Free Speech,” a segment that will periodically feature outsiders giving a brief commentary. Morgan Spurlock, who subsisted on McDonald’s for 30 days in his documentary “Supersize Me,” was first up, talking about how the nation’s political divide is exaggerated by the media. Couric promised that Rush Limbaugh would be featured Thursday.
The rest of the broadcast was dominated by longer features on drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and high school students who draw portraits of poor orphans across the world. Couric also showed the first pictures of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ new baby, Suri.
She made only one slip, mispronouncing “soil” as “sole” at one point but quickly correcting herself.
Couric’s only real nod to her newbie status came at the end, with a joking report on her difficulties coming up with a signoff. She showed clips of Cronkite, Chet Huntley, Dan Rather, Ted Baxter and even fictitious movie anchorman Ron Burgundy giving their final words, then invited viewers to submit suggestions via the CBS News web site.
“Thank you so much for watching,” she said, “and I hope to see you tomorrow night.”
As the end credits rolled, Couric, wearing a white jacket over a black shirt and skirt, was leaning against the edge of her desk, showing her famous legs.
She’s the first woman hired to anchor one of the three network nightly newscasts on her own. Predecessors Barbara Walters, Connie Chung and Elizabeth Vargas only got their jobs in partnership with men.
Couric also made her initial posting Tuesday on her new blog, “Couric & Co.,” run by CBS News. She promised to swap stories, offer opinions and ask questions of viewers. “In the little village that is CBS News, you might consider `Couric & Co.’ the coffee house on the corner, where something is always brewing,” she wrote.
When she was considering leaving the familiar environs of NBC, Couric wrote that a friend told her: “A boat is always safe in the harbor. But it’s not what it was built for.”
“Hopefully,” she wrote, “we won’t all end up like Gilligan.”
Couric makes `CBS Evening News’ debut