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Couric helps out CBS

The network's incoming anchor breaks NBC's no-publicity deal.

May 18, 2006|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

New York — THE network upfronts are known for their stunts and surprises, and CBS managed to pull off one particularly unexpected appearance Wednesday during its presentation at Carnegie Hall.

About half an hour into the show, soon-to-be CBS News anchor Katie Couric came out to greet the crowd of advertisers, two weeks before her 15-year run at NBC's "Today" concludes.

Couric was introduced by CBS Corp. President Leslie Moonves and came out on stage to applause and some whistles. In brief remarks, Couric said she was "thrilled to be joining a remarkable team of journalists," adding that "when it comes to intelligence, commitment and integrity, they are top-notch."

She thanked outgoing anchor Bob Schieffer for his support and said that she hoped to "develop a broadcast that is relevant, accessible, compelling and human." After a gratifying career at NBC, Couric added that she was "so honored CBS is giving me the opportunity to give this my best shot."

While some in the audience may not have been surprised to see CBS trotting out its arguably biggest new star of next season, Couric wasn't originally going to make an appearance at the upfront out of deference to her current employer.

Earlier in the year, when it was clear the longtime "Today" co-anchor was itching for a new challenge, NBC officials agreed to let her begin negotiations early with CBS as long as she did not do publicity for her new job until after her contract at NBC ends on May 31.

Extracting that agreement proved to be a particularly deft move by NBC. In April, Couric announced on "Today" that she was leaving the show to become the next anchor of the "CBS Evening News" -- her only public statement so far about the move.

NBC followed her announcement with its own the next day when officials broke the news that Meredith Vieira of ABC's "The View" would be replacing Couric at "Today." (ABC didn't seem to mind letting Vieira make an appearance at NBC headquarters that day to discuss her new role, or being spotlighted at NBC's upfront earlier this week.)

Meanwhile, CBS officials were privately irked that they weren't going to get to show off Couric at the network's presentation, especially since she's just two weeks away from becoming a CBS employee.

Moonves joked with reporters Wednesday morning that he offered to let Julie Chen, "The Early Show" co-anchor -- and Moonves' wife -- attend the NBC upfront in exchange, "but they rejected that."

The situation created a dilemma for Couric, who, grateful for NBC's graciousness about her decision to move on, has sought to balance the competing interests of her current and future employers. Ultimately, she concluded she should be at the CBS upfront and told NBC officials in a note earlier this week.

"Katie thought it would be odd to not make a brief appearance," said her spokesman, Matthew Hiltzik. "NBC was informed of her intentions, and she did not receive any objection."

NBC officials declined to comment, but indicated that the move raised some eyebrows.

"The feeling on this end was a little surprise that she would go ahead and do it," said one executive who did not want to be named to avoid exacerbating the matter. "But no one is going to lose sleep over it."

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