Katie Couric vs. Age Spots
CBS decided to bet tens of millions of dollars against statistical reality: Aging female celebrities are not popular with men. It
is losing the bet. A May 14, 2007 article in the New York Times blew the whistle.
The numbers are stark. Eight months into Katie
Couric's job as the first woman to anchor a network newscast on
her own, her "CBS Evening News" has not only settled back into
its long-held position of last among the evening news broadcasts,
but also regularly falls short of the newscast that Ms. Couric
In the latest week's ratings, "CBS Evening News" had its worst
performance since the Nielsen company installed its "people
meter" ratings system 20 years ago.
Ms. Couric professed to be unfazed. "Honestly, I think we're
going to see ebbs and flows," she said in a telephone interview
the day after receiving the ratings news. "I don't think it's a
She sounded like George Bush on the Iraq war. Note: Bush's days
are numbered. So are hers, I think.
I was never a fan of Ms. Couric. On the rare occasions when I
watched the Today Show, what caught my attention was Ms.
Couric's tendency to interrupt the person she was interviewing.
I do not recall any interviewer I have ever seen who did this
more often on network TV.
She proved to millions of mothers that their advice to their
daughters may have cost their girls a career. "It's not polite to
interrupt, dear." To which an observant daughter could rightly
respond: "Katie Couric interrupts people for a living and makes
$15 million a year."
What also amazed me was the banality of her interruptions. This
was not Barbara Walters, who got people to say all sorts of
revealing things by playing the role of an interested discussion
partner. This was Mike Wallace without the age spots. Then,
anyway. Not for long.
From the day she took over as CBS anchor, I noticed that she
looked older than I remembered. Either her makeup person was
below par, or the lighting was wrong, or the new job's pressure
had aged her, but she looked older. Yes, at age 49 (now 50), she
still looked pretty good. But the clock was ticking.
On Today, her audience was women. They are less likely to abandon another woman just because she is aging. But the CBS Evening News is watched by men. She jumped ship from the demographic Queen Elizabeth II to the Titanic.
"This woman is going to wind up looking like Barbara Walters," I
thought. "And she isn't as good an interviewer." When was the
last time you saw Barbara Walters?
Ms. Couric's immediate predecessor, Bob Shieffer, was a fill-in
after Dan Rather went the way of all flesh, and Shieffer knew it.
So, he didn't follow the traditional Teleprompter script for
anchors. He has spent years as an interviewer on Sunday
morning's Face the Nation. When he got to the Evening
News, he would often ask questions of reporters after their
presentation. The questions were relevant to what the person had
just reported. That was the first time I recall any TV anchorman
actually interacting with reporters on assignment in the field.
If these questions were scripted, they were done well. I notice
that Ms. Kouric has continued the practice, and now the other
network anchors are doing it.
I prefer to watch Charles Gibson on ABC. He doesn't trip over
his tongue the way Brian Williams does, which carries on the
tradition at NBC set by Tom Brokaw in his later years. Also, Gibson
is older. This is an advantage for men. It is not an advantage
"Unfair, unfair!" cry the women, just as they have throughout
history. Tough. Meg Ryan has been missing in action. Michael Caine is still around. Get used to it. Roll with
the punches. Sally Field did. She has made osteoporosis pay the
bills. Life may be like a box of chocolates: you don't know what
the next one will be. But this uncertainty is not complete. We
know the age spots are coming.
CBS News forgot.
Why CBS rolled the loaded demographic dice is a mystery to me.
CBS Evening News was in third place under Rather, third place under Shieffer,
and remains in third place today. But Ms. Couric's network rivals will
age as men age. Ms. Couric will not.
She was a
cheerleader in high school. She has done very well since
then. But the reality is this: cheerleaders fade.
So do Nielsen ratings.
I don't think Theraderm can help much here. But it wouldn't hurt.
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