NEW YORK — Every weekday evening, Katie Couric is the picture of sobriety on the "CBS Evening News": buttoned-down and earnest.
Viewers who miss the impish humor the anchor exhibited on "Today" probably don't know that it's still possible to catch glimpses of Couric, unplugged -- and in a medium that's light-years away from the staid environs of broadcast news.
Since February, Couric has been quietly uploading videos to her own channel on YouTube. The clips -- so far, 33 -- display the mischievous and often hammy personality that the newscaster doesn't get to show in her current post.
Along with extended material from her CBS interviews, much of the footage consists of behind-the-scenes moments with a lighthearted Couric. During a visit to CNN for an interview in March, she snapped the back of Larry King's suspenders as he escorted her into a studio. On a flight to Washington to interview Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in February, she held a mascara stick and joked that "it takes a village to make this face presentable on television."
The outtakes delight many YouTube users who have come across the channel.
"Love to see the real katie . . . not the behind the desk robot," read one typical comment posted on the site.
Filmed at a time of feverish speculation about how much longer she will stay on the third-place broadcast, the videos offer a jarring contrast to the recent spate of stories about the grim situation on the "CBS Evening News." In the clips, she chortles and grins widely, whether she's teasing photographers from the New York Post, singing in her SUV or sitting shoeless on the floor of her office talking to mommy bloggers.
Couric, who drew a huge spotlight when she took the CBS anchor post in 2006, has largely avoided interviews since then. (She declined a request for comment on this story.) But in recent weeks, the anchor offered several sharp public critiques of the media, including a video entry on her CBS News blog in which she assailed the press for not calling out the sexism that Clinton confronted in this year's presidential campaign.
Her YouTube videos share the same unrestrained spirit.
In one, she makes an allusion to the pressing questions about her future. As she adjusted her suit before going on the air Super Tuesday, Couric said: "I wore this in 2006, too, and I didn't lose my job, so that's positive."
Later in the night, the cheerleader emerged: "How we feeling, everybody?" she asked during a break, clapping her hands enthusiastically. "Whoo! I'm such a nerd, I'm sorry. I have to do something to keep myself fired up."
Retort to Shearer
The YouTube channel was largely Couric's idea, in part a reaction to the pirated videos of her that turned up in recent months on comedian Harry Shearer's site, My Damn Channel, according to people familiar with the project. One of those videos, which shows Couric joking with producers between live shots on New Hampshire primary night, has been viewed more than 1.4 million times.
"We thought, why let him put stuff out there when we can do it ourselves," said one producer involved with the YouTube channel.
In her opening video, Couric joked, "It's nice to be on YouTube for a change when I know the cameras are rolling. Harry Shearer, I'm going to get you!"
She promised to post outtakes and "funny moments" on the site, calling it "sort of America's Funniest Home Videos -- our version, if you will."
But Couric's YouTube channel has garnered little notice, perhaps because neither she nor CBS News has done anything to promote it. There's no link for it on CBSNews.com. So far, the channel has logged about 19,000 views (though individual clips have separately gotten more traffic).
Network executives said the videos -- shot by Couric and a few producers, mostly on a hand-held flip camera -- are meant to be spread virally.
"You don't need to over-promote this," said Bob Peterson, CBS News' creative director, who edits some of the pieces. "It should be organic -- work with it and let it grow."
Singing and joking
Those who have stumbled onto the site have been treated to a window into the anchor's busy social calendar. There are glimpses of her singing a duet with Bette Midler for an environmental fundraiser, reading poetry with Meryl Streep and attending a lively Manhattan book party.
The videos also offer hints of the rarefied atmosphere Couric occupies: the coterie of female aides packed in her SUV that she jokingly calls "my posse," a massive Andy Warhol-style painting of her face that dominates her office.
Most of all, the footage spotlights the irreverence that won Couric so many fans on "Today."
In one clip, she followed an interview with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. about Afghanistan with a YouTube recommendation: “Lucky’s Funeral," in which a young girl earnestly gives her dead goldfish a toilet burial.
"Hilarious," Couric, who has the video posted on her channel under "Favorites," assured the senator.
Couric had the camera rolling last month when she joined NBC's Brian Williams and ABC's Charles Gibson for a trio of appearances on the network morning shows to promote a cancer research fundraiser. At one stop, as the anchors waited in a green room to go on the air, Couric pointed out to Gibson her producer, shooting material for YouTube.
"Say hi," she urged a bemused Gibson. "I'm trying to get into the 21st century, Charlie."
"But I'm not," Gibson said, turning away with a wry grin. "I'm still in the 19th. So I haven't the faintest idea what she's doing."
Couric, however, seems energized by the possibilities.
During her visit to CNN, she extolled the virtues of YouTube to King: "It's this channel on the Internet, and you can get all sorts of things on there."
"Is this our future?" he asked.
"Yeah, actually," she responded, "I think it is."