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Recast the CBS newscast?

Incoming anchor Katie Couric won't `reinvent the wheel,' but she is entertaining new ideas.

July 17, 2006|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

A look at some of the highlights as the TV industry unveils its upcoming shows to the entertainment press at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena:

Katie Couric has a new idea she's hoping to incorporate on the "CBS Evening News" when she takes over the anchor desk.

"I'm trying to convince Martha Stewart to do a cooking segment every night," the former "Today" show anchor deadpanned to the roomful of television reporters and critics assembled Sunday.

"Kidding -- joke," she hastened to add, just in case there was any confusion.

Ever since she was tapped this past spring to be the new face of "CBS Evening News," Couric has been dogged by questions about whether she would recast the evening newscast in the blithe spirit of morning television. It's a notion that the 49-year-old broadcaster has largely shrugged off as uninformed, noting that she has plenty experience in hard news.

But she is planning changes to the broadcast, which she begins anchoring Sept. 5. This month, Couric began meeting with CBS producers to discuss how to remake the news program without turning off longtime watchers.

"We don't want to suddenly reinvent the wheel but offer people some fresh things," she said.

As part of the presentation, CBS News President Sean McManus announced a slew of new multimedia products that are part of an effort to expand the reach of the early evening broadcast, including Web-only interviews conducted by Couric, an online preview of the day's broadcast, an interactive blog and a simulcast of the evening news on CBS' radio affiliates.

Still, the news president and his new anchor both offered a largely upbeat assessment of the state of network evening newscasts and Americans' appetite for meaty journalism.

"I don't think we're dealing with a dying product," McManus said. "I mean, our audience is growing."

The Bob Schieffer-led "CBS Evening News" is in third place but this season has attracted about 280,000 more viewers on average than last season. Couric's arrival is expected to shake up the ratings race among the three networks, although McManus stressed Sunday that CBS had no specific expectations for viewership.

For her part, Couric said, "I do believe that if you build it, they will come, that quality attracts people. If we do it and do it well, people will be interested."

The incoming anchor said she had garnered a lot of ideas from a series of town hall meetings around the country in the last week. The sixth and final session will be today in San Francisco.

"It also reinforced, happily, the view that there are a lot of highly intelligent, very engaged, very concerned people in this country who are very interested in serious subjects and in the news of the day," she said.

"I got the distinct sense that they want us to go a little bit deeper. I think people are hungry and interested in the gray areas of stories, in more nuanced reporting. And they don't feel that it has to be just simply a presentation of extreme views on one side or the other."

The draw of Couric's celebrity was evident at the conclusion of Sunday's hourlong panel, when dozens of reporters rushed the stage and surrounded her for an additional 15 minutes, peppering her with questions.

But McManus said that in the end, her success would ride on her work as a journalist.

"All that attention will be completely wasted if we don't put on a show that the American people respect and like," he said. "And I think we will."

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