After a single broadcast of The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, the verdicts were in — although, no doubt, some verdicts were in well before Couric appeared on-air Tuesday evening. As USA Today’s Robert Bianco wrote yesterday: “It’s no big news that Katie Couric provokes strong reactions. That means, in part, that whatever you thought of Couric after last night’s [broadcast] is probably exactly what you thought before — particularly if you came away loving or hating her.” In other words, viewers had strong opinions about Couric well before her CBS debut; their minds were already made up.
And so, it seems, were the minds of many media reporters, columnists and critics, whose next-day Couric reviews had a predictable, Mad Libs quality about them, a certainty and finality that belied the fact that this was night one of Couric’s four-year contract, and a frequent fixation on the superficial. (Katie Couric made her CBS debut last night and, with exactly one broadcast under her belt, I am here to tell you What It Means for Nightly News and for Journalism In General [insert hand-wringing.] Couric wore ____ which was inappropriate/unflattering because it _____. There was a particularly low-gravitas moment when Couric quipped ____. In sum, [hand-wringing and more hand-wringing]). Judging by much of the coverage that preceded Couric’s initial broadcast, many a media critics’ knives were out and sharpened well before Couric even uttered her first word (“Hi …”) Tuesday night.
Two weeks before Couric’s inaugural broadcast, MarketWatch.com’s Jon Friedman foretold that she would be a “brilliant failure” — which, after viewing Couric’s inaugural run, he tweaked to the more strident “journalistic nightmare.” Couric “dropped the ball” Tuesday night, Friedman wrote, adding that “at its worst, the show reinforced all of the worries of grizzled veteran journalists” — which, Friedman figures, “wasn’t all Couric’s fault … her producer let the cuteness get way out of control.” So much so that the “show was silly at times; full of fluff at others; and, faithfully, All About Katie. All the time.”
And yet, other media commentators praised CBS for achieving precisely the opposite effect: managing to make the debut “be not all about Katie — or even mostly about her … almost as if CBS belatedly made a decision to low-key an event it has been ballyhooing all summer (per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel); not being “a huge showcase for [Couric]” (according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette); and, not going “into Katie overload … CBS’ viewers didn’t see appreciably more of her than ABC and NBC viewers did of Charles Gibson and Brian Williams” (USA Today).
Unlike Friedman’s “sky is falling” assessment, the Washington Post’s Tom Shales — though he called Couric’s broadcast “frothy, funsy” — concluded that it “did not seem to hasten the decline and fall of TV news.” And yet, Shales continued (touching on a common refrain in the next-day Couric coverage), “it didn’t offer anything really new, either — and on its first outing, it didn’t offer anything news.” Similarly, from Newsday’s Verne Gay: “But by the time 7 p.m. rolled around, some viewers could be excused for wondering, ‘what happened in the world today?’” and, “Couric ended the big night by asking viewers to write in suggesting a close for her broadcast … While they’re at it, they might suggest a few stories they’d like to see covered as well.” And, observed the Miami Herald’s Glenn Garvin: “Sleek new set with giant videoboard: check. Rousing new theme from the guy who wrote the Titanic score: check. … Actual news content: Ummm …” Even People magazine panned Couric for going all fluffy. (“Frankly, it was all very unedifying …”)