I still remember the phone call six years ago. The “Today Show” called me, looking for a control room producer for the hit show. It was a chance to work with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, the “A Team” in TV news. For journalists like me who thrive on working with fantastic talent that make headlines come alive, this was my dream job. But I had a four-week-old son and couldn’t move back home to NYC. I had to say no. I still struggle with that decision.
Working with Couric is still a producer’s dream and everyone inside the business will tell you that. They’ll also tell you it’s old news that Katie is “allegedly” leaving her job as anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” as AP is now reporting. All my friends in the media and CBS’ inner circle have known this for months. Even David Letterman joked about it with her last week. No one is surprised. Why? CBS insiders told me Katie is a fantastic news anchor, they’ve got a great news team and “Evening News” wins lots of awards. Still, as everyone knows, Katie was never a hit with the viewers and CBS’ ratings are a big disappointment. So, she’s reportedly out.
Why didn’t it work? Some will call her years at CBS mixed at best: a failure at worst. I call it a first. Katie Couric was the first woman to anchor an evening news show on network television. She broke the newsroom glass ceiling and, from a woman’s point of view, that’s as big as it gets. If you were one of the top journalists in the world and CBS came knocking at your door, offering you this historic opportunity, would you say no? I wouldn’t. Katie did what many of us dream about. She strode into the boy’s’ club, where Peter Jennings and Brian Williams held court. And she had the journalistic expertise and personal moxie to make it happen.
But the problem came once she crossed that line — Katie and network news were never a good fit. Her strength is her personality, warmth and fantastic ability to get people to open up to her during interviews and share their world, their secrets with her and with you, the viewer. She often scooped top interviews everyone else clamored for. That’s what made her a star at “Today.” But there’s no room for that in a nightly network news show. The show’s format didn’t allow Katie’s strengths to play out. It boxed her in and left her and the show feeling flat. She could interact with reporters when they were on set, but most of the time she sat alone in that big, cold studio. It swallowed her. And it simply wasn’t the Katie that we all knew and loved. She knew it, her producers knew it and everyone else knew it. I must say I looked forward to the last story in the show, the “kicker” as we call it, to see Katie as Katie – it was usually a light, feel-good story where her personality could shine through and we could see that big, endearing smile.
So where does that leave Katie and her “legacy?” First of all, she’s too young to have a legacy. She’s still got a fantastic career ahead of her and, according to AP, Katie is expected to launch a syndicated talk show next year, with several media giants competing for her talents. The former “Today” show host is going back to what launched her to journalist stardom and respect – she’ll be doing what she enjoys, what she did so well and what we loved her for. I, for one, will be rooting her on and watching for her next winning move.