David Letterman trades jabs with "CBS Evening News" anchor… (John Paul Filo, CBS )
The Katie Couric era at the "CBS Evening News" appears to be drawing to a close.
Couric, whose five-year contract to anchor the network's nightly news program expires in early June, is looking more likely to take a shot at daytime television, people familiar with the situation said.
Almost from the day she started, there has been speculation that Couric was not as comfortable working the evening shift as she was in her previous job as co-anchor of NBC's hugely successful morning show, "Today." Ratings for all network newscasts have declined sharply during the past decade while the morning shows have become profit centers.
Although Couric may exit network news, she could still end up working for CBS in daytime. She has been consulting with Jeff Zucker, her former producer on "Today" and the ex-chief executive of NBCUniversal, on a new talk show and has been pitching CBS as well as NBC and ABC.
Couric also wants to keep a toe in news. A deal with CBS, for example, could also include appearances on "60 Minutes" and other news programs, a person at the network said.
Although Couric proved very popular in the soft news environment of morning television, that does not mean she would necessarily succeed in daytime. With Oprah Winfrey leaving daytime TV later this year, there is increased competition for her audience. CNN's Anderson Cooper has thrown his hat into the ring with a new show debuting this fall. A Couric-hosted program would not debut until the fall of 2012.
Couric is not the only one who has made moves indicating she was looking for a new job. CBS also seems ready to move on. CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves has indicated that the era of the high salaried news anchor is nearing an end. Moonves, who was instrumental in wooing Couric away from NBC to CBS, said last year in a speech at the University of Texas in Austin that the "Katie Couric deal will be the last big deal of that kind ever done. … Those days are over." Couric's annual paycheck is between $13 million and $15 million.
Inside CBS, the search is on for Couric's successor. A leading candidate is Scott Pelley, a correspondent on the network's "60 Minutes" news magazine.
While Pelley is not a lock, he has close ties to the right people. Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes," was earlier this year also named chairman of CBS News and is overseeing the search for Couric's successor.
In Pelley, the network has a well-regarded correspondent, but one without the high profile of Couric. That may not be a negative. If he is given the job, odds are the network won't have to worry about him eyeing other options on the horizon, which was not the case with Couric.
"The high level of interest in her future is flattering, but she has not made a decision," said Couric spokesman Matthew Hiltzik.
A CBS News spokeswoman declined to comment.
Should Couric exit nightly news, hers would be one of the shortest anchor stints in the modern television news era. In an interview earlier this week on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman," she was chided by the comedian for considering such a short stint. "It's not like it's a temp gig," Letterman told Couric, reminding her that other anchors "ride into the sunset."
"Is that a CBS law?" Couric fired back.