We’ll state this for the record: this is absolutely, positively, and indubitably the last time we will post something about Katie Couric and her travails as the anchor of the CBS Evening News. We were prompted to do so this time because of an article published December 10 in Advertising Age, the bible of the people who produce and sell all those ads on television, from performance enhancing aphrodisiacs to the new and improved Hummer.

Ad Age’s recent column has to do with reinventing Coric’s news show so that it would attract more women and younger viewers. Titled “Is CBS trying to rebrand Couric?” the article notes that the network “is promoting the news show as if Walter Cronkite still sat behind the desk.”Speaking of Cronkite, does everyone know that it is his voice that introduces Couric at the top of every newscast? Why Cronkite agreed to do that remains a mystery – unless his savings have run out. Not to be outdone, NBC has hired actor Michael Douglas to introduce Brian Williams as “NBC Nightly News” commences. So far, no word from ABC about a celebrity announcer, but SpongeBob Squarepants would seem to be in order.But we digress. Rebranding is an advertising term for the process of changing such things as a product’s name, herald or logo, appearance and sound, and the product’s USP – Unique Selling Proposition. CBS is clearly backing off from its original attempt to transport Couric from NBC as an evening version of the various morning shows, such as “Today.” That would give CBS what it (and the other TV news organizations) now lack – a younger audience and more women viewers.

Within the confines of the CBS news division, the concept was met with skepticism if not outright hostility. In an article earlier this year, The Hollywood Reporter used the very term “rebrand” to describe the network’s abandonment of the younger audience approach and its switch back to hard news and the Cronkite image. Both CBS president Leslie Moonves and Couric have certainly tired of the TV critics initial branding of newswoman Katie as a “chipmunk-cheeked, Clinton-loving perkette” [National Review], and the constant references to Couric’s sinking ratings.

Recent numbers show “ABC World News with Charles Gibson” leading the ratings race with 9.3 million viewers. “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” has a respectable 8.3 million viewers. And “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric” rounds out the three major networks with an audience of 5.9 million. Not only is Couric in last place, but her annual salary of $15 million means CBS and their advertisers are paying several times more per viewer than is being charged by NBC and ABC, based on the anchors’ salaries.

Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, also has harsh words for Couric: “Couric can’t cut it if she stays on the non-news fringe she started on. On her popular NBC morning Today show, timeliness didn’t matter much. On evening news, timeliness matters most.” But CEO Leslie Moonves is sticking by his gal, saying “Ms. Couric is still a terrific person.” Yet the Ad Age article cites a recent measure of consumer appeal by Marketing Evaluations, the firm that devised the “Q” scores that measure a performer’s popularity. The findings are not propitious for Couric. They show her negatives to be much higher than when she was with the “Today” program. Translation: an evening newscast can polarize audiences more than a morning show, and because of her gender and name recognition, Couric commands even more awareness.

Another negative is the perception, if not the fact, that Couric exhibits a liberal bias in much of her reporting. Older audiences, such as those tuning in the nightly TV broadcasts, tends to be on the conservative side and interested more in hard news than the type of young-adult fare served up by Couric and previous CBS anchors Connie Chung and Bryant Gumbel.

The old bon mot, “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” apparently has been lost on Leslie Moonves, described by the Washington Post’s Tom Shales as “a former actor who appears once each season on a CBS drama and knows nothing about news.” Moonves seems insistent on pursuing a strategy of overhauling the CBS news approach as often as it takes to get it right, while refusing to consider the possibility that Couric just might be an unfixable liability.

– Chase.Hamil

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