Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Katie Couric's Attempt to Change TV News

Katie Couric's premiere as the solo anchor of the CBS Evening News was not a failure, but it was a poorly-executed attempt to shape the suppertime news in her image. All of the new colors and segments was an attempt to turn the traditional news program into a morning show. It also was filled with weak journalism that was an embarrassment to the CBS news tradition. Some of the changes worked, others were instant failures.

The biggest nod to mornings was the new set design and color scheme. The orange/yellow/blue are the typical morning show hues. It's nice to see less harsh evening colors but the place looked like she walked into the set of the CBS morning show. It didn't work because it made her look "soft" and upheld her perky image.

Analysis it piece by piece:

The opening was pre-taped and Katie's outfit was just plain terrible. TV 101 teaches you don't wear white on television, much less on the typically darkened evening news. Her white jacket was totally out of place and the outfit made her look frumpy. She also had a quiver in her voice and was visibly nervous.

The first piece on Afghanistan seemed dated and didn't really contain much news. Then an edited, pre-taped interview with a New York Times reporter followed. So within minutes of starting her show, she was sitting in a chair with her legs showing, just like on her morning show. The guest was fiery but the whole piece was stilted--an attempt to appeal to Eastern liberals who would appreciate that she brought on someone with the Times pedigree.

The actual "news" of the day was not only delayed but quickly abridged into a few short clips. There wasn't much "news" on the CBS Evening News that night.

Katie introduced as "free speech" segment, which is probably the best idea of the new show. The choice of Morgan Spurlock as the segment's first guest was another nod to East Coast liberals--Spurlock is the Hollywood version of the "balanced" perspective. Yet anyone who has seen his material knows that the documentarian skews his material to attempt to show conservatives in a bad light and uses his TV show "30 Days" to try to convert right wingers into "moderates" (his term for himself). The segment from Spurlock said nothing new and was mediocre time-filler. But when it finished, Katie assured the audience that on Thursday show Rush Limbaugh would give his view. THAT'S going to be interesting!

The worst segment was the final piece which started with a clip from the '50s in which anchorman Douglas Edwards held up a photo of Prince Charles as a baby. That is what Couric used to justify airing the first TV photo of Tom Cruise's daughter Suri. It was laugh-out-loud absurd. This is what CBS thinks is news?

Then she asked for America's help in coming up with a sign-off phrase. Is this her idea of a joke? Does Couric not have the guts to step up and try something original? Or just plain say "good night" without having her own signature phrase. It was obviously an attempt to make her look open to outside opinions, but anyone who has studied Couric knows that she's stubborn and independent. She is putting on a "show" by getting the public involved in suggesting catch phrases and it was a disappointing ending because it made her look weak.

On a scale of one to ten, the journalistic value of this first episode was about a one. Little news. Overly rehearsed and scripted. Too much kissing up to the public.

Not that it was a total failure. Couric looked like she fit, but that's because they changed the serious evening news show into a fluffy feature-oriented morning-style show. And the free speech segment has some real potential. But there was nothing on this show that was better than what was done by Bob Schieffer. After the initial ratings spurt due to curiosity, the prediction is that the public will tire of the soft Couric approach and gravitate to the solid, strong male anchors on competing networks.