If Katie-mania persists past Tuesday night – when Ms. Couric at last appears in her new role as sole anchor and managing editor of "CBS Evening News" – the network's gamble to rebuild its news cachet, and its audience, will almost certainly become one for the textbooks.
Only time (and the ratings) will tell. But win or lose, the five months of buzz leading up to Katie Couric's CBS debut – longer than a president-elect takes to assume office – have spurred a national conversation about everything from the emphasis on celebrity in public life to gender roles and political bias in the media.
All the attention on the former "Today" cohost stems partly from the fact that Couric is the first woman to occupy the post and has the highest anchor salary ever (reportedly over $15 million a year). But her new career path has also been an occasion to dissect the future of the half-hour network newscast itself.
"CBS's hiring of Katie Couric is a 'Hail Mary' pass to regain relevance and shake up the network news neighborhood," says Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. In reaching for the former morning-show host, CBS News, home to journalism legends such as Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, is reaching for "more sizzle and less steak, all in the hopes of reaching the ever-elusive younger demographic," he adds.
Many women applaud Couric's appointment to the top of the network-news food chain. Even so, others note that media oversaturation means the evening newscast is not the premier slot it once was. "With the rise of online news formats and rampant 24-hour news stations, the anchor spot has little of the power and prestige that once characterized the role for Walter Cronkite and even for the [Peter] Jennings/[Dan] Rather/[Tom] Brokaw generation," says Robin Crabtree, a communications professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut.