Dose of news, not Couric, is what many seek

September 18, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

There seems no end to the media's fascination with Katie Couric, who reads the news on CBS weekday evenings and for this has become the most overanalyzed person on the planet.

Let's see, in her two weeks on her new job, we've read about her legs, hair and pearls.

We've read about the white jacket she wore her first night, which, depending on your point of view, made her look stylish or like a real estate agent showing a two-bedroom condo in Miami.

We've read about the doctored CBS publicity photo that made her look slimmer than she really is, as if she were Rosie O'Donnell in real life.

We've read speculation about what effect she'll have on CBS' ratings and how her ascension to the anchor throne could change the face of the evening news forever, thus leaving Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and all the other Hall of Fame news anchors spinning in their graves. (OK, Cronkite's still alive. But, still.)

We've read that she doesn't have a big-league-anchor sign-off and feels bad about that, so she's asking viewers to e-mail her their suggestions.

(OK, her sign-off does need work. The other night it was: "Thanks so much for watching. Good night."

(Zzzz. Sounds like something the usher at the Regal 14 cinema says as you're leaving.)

But in the midst of this relentless examination of Couric in her new job, the question must be asked: Who actually cares about all this stuff?

Look, there are nearly 300 million people in this country, but only about 25 million of them still watch the evening news.

And most of these 25 million are in what is politely known as an "aging demographic."

If you say, "Did you watch Katie Couric on the news last night?" to someone younger than, say, 35, that person will tilt his or her head and look at you like a confused cocker spaniel.

No, it's definitely older folks who form the core audience for The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

If you don't believe me, check out the newscast's commercials.

On a recent show, the commercials were for blood-pressure medication, bone-loss supplements, life and retirement insurance, Bayer aspirin "for heart attacks" and Nexium, the Purple Pill for combating "acid-reflux disease."

No, no spots for iPods or Old Navy or Madden 2007 video games when Couric's in the anchor chair.

So here's the question: Does this older audience give a hoot about Couric's pearls and clothes and air-brushed publicity photos -- or what her sign-off will be?

I really don't think so.

I think most of them will tune in for -- here's a radical concept -- the news.

They'll tune in for the same reason people have always tuned in to the evening news: to see whether the Middle East is blowing up, or whether the price of gas is still going through the roof, or whether Ford or GM is laying off another 10,000 workers because their car sales are still tanking.

Oh, sure, the newscast will have a little breezier, more updated feel with Couric in the anchor chair, as opposed to her predecessors, Bob Schieffer and Dan Rather.

(The easy-going, avuncular Schieffer could do breezy, of course. Rather, on the other hand, he was so intense that I'd actually tune in to see if this was the night his head would explode in mid-sentence.)

But there won't be an overdose of fluff, apparently. On a recent show, for example, topics included the controversy surrounding President Bush and military trials for terror suspects, Ford Motor Co. offering buyouts to all hourly workers, new threats of global warming, a suicide attack in Baghdad, the Montreal school-shooting rampage and the undercover source who unraveled a terrorist plot to blow up a New York subway station.

I really don't think so.

Not a soft piece on dieting tips or the new spelling-bee winner to be found anywhere -- although every evening newscast breaks out the fluff now and then these days.

Anyway, on the other day, Couric wrote that she's "really enjoying my new gig."

She also wrote -- uh-oh -- that "the sign-off thing has been fun, too," and that she's been reading the suggestions e-mailed to her by viewers.

Yep, sign-offs are big with news anchors for some reason.

Walter Cronkite famously signed off with: "And that's the way it is."

And the low-key team of Huntley and Brinkley went with: "Good night, Chet. Good night, David." They managed to sound like two funeral-home directors closing up for the night.

Dan Rather trotted out the bizarre "courage" for a while, then abandoned it when people thought he sounded like a nut case, then brought it back.

Even fake anchors get in on the act: Smarmy Ron Burgundy in the movie Anchorman signed off with the cringe-inducing "Stay classy, San Diego."

Couric doesn't seem to have decided on a sign-off yet but writes in a blog about her first week: "Bob Barker wants me to implore viewers at the end of every broadcast to `have your pets spayed or neutered.'" Mmmmmmmm. Interesting.

You talk about a groundbreaking sign-off -- that would probably qualify.

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