Bidding farewell to the evening newcast

By Tom Comi

There was a time when anchoring the evening news was the premier broadcasting job in the business. But with Katie Couric looking to step down from her perch at CBS, it begs the question as to what role broadcast networks actually serve in news nowadays.

In the glory days of TV news, every TV journalist in the country aspired to helm the evening newscast on NBC, CBS and ABC. It wasn’t a temporary stop or stepping stone but rather a place where the elite of the elite stayed until they retired, passed away or were fired. Names like Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters filled the prestigious anchor chairs and delivered America the news.

And then along came the Internet and 24-hour news networks, which essentially made the evening newscasts outdated and obsolete. By the time current anchors Brian Williams (NBC), Diane Sawyer (ABC) and Couric are hitting the air every night, an overwhelming majority of people have already gotten their news from cable news stations (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) or online sites (Washington Post, New York Times, Google alerts, Yahoo news, etc.).

Couric tried to factor in that attrition when she took over at CBS Evening News five years ago by adding more interviews and interactive features, but it backfired when the network lost more of its already-dwindling viewership. In an interview with The New York Times Magazine, Couric admitted she should have “given people what they were used to, a traditional newscast.”

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “traditional newscast” today. If the nightly news and newspapers went away tomorrow, would any of us really feel a major void in our lives? And that is the dilemma the broadcast networks are currently struggling with — especially CBS, which is floundering both at night and in the morning with its little-watched The Early Show.

There are talks now that Couric might headline her own talk show, perhaps even taking over Oprah’s soon-to-be-vacated time slot. And some are speculating that she could team up down the road with former Today co-host Matt Lauer, who is said to be looking at options outside of his current gig at 30 Rock.

Either way, it’s undeniable that the landscape of the evening news will look much different without her, and it makes one sympathize with the newscaster who has the unenviable task of filling what was once a very coveted position.


Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/CBS