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It's over, and not a moment too soon

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published May 31, 2006


She's a former cheerleader and sorority girl who so charmed viewers that she came to earn an estimated $50,000 per day as queen of network TV's highest-rated morning news program.

So why won't I miss Katie Couric when she leaves the Today show this morning?

My curmudgeonly attitude is only helped by the three-hour goodbye NBC has planned for its departing superstar, including a look back on her 15 years at Today - The hairstyles! The hemlines! The colonoscopy! Oh my! - a song from Tony Bennett and clips of congratulation from notable fans. (Already we've been treated to Regis Philbin complaining about Couric's wandering hands and a serenade from Dateline NBC's Stone Phillips. Really.)

So, as Couric heads off to become the face of CBS News on Sept. 5, I'm left with Four Reasons Why I'm Glad Katie Is Gone.

1. It's Time for Her to Leave.

Arguably, Couric hit her peak in 1999, when her interview with a survivor of the Columbine High School shootings and the parent of a victim demonstrated the perfect mix required of a morning show anchor: empathy, relatability and celebrity.

Recently, Couric's fame has overwhelmed all. There is more talk about her short skirts, young beaus and new glasses than her interviews, and the deluge of Katie-centered celebrity coverage has fatigued viewers like me who just want some lively news items to kick off the day.

"She has 100 percent brand identity and 50 percent brand approval," said Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. "Half the audience is saying 'Good luck,' the other half is saying, 'Good riddance.' "

2. Might Fuel a Resurgence in Hard News

Network news analyst Andrew Tyndall sees Couric's move to CBS and the shift of Good Morning America's Charlie Gibson to the ABC evening news as signs of a serious shift. The advent of digital media has turned network news divisions into multimedia operations, Tyndall says, and their surest route to an audience in the world of podcasting, blogs and streaming video is via quality hard news product delivered by names the public knows.

3. She Can Revolutionize Another Time Slot

As annoying as Celebrity Couric can be, there's no denying she has also helped revolutionize the way women serve as co-hosts on morning news shows - insisting since her April 5, 1991, start on a 50/50 split between news and features segments with then-co-anchor Bryant Gumbel.

4. She's Leaving Before We Forget How Good She Is

Between the two of them, Couric and co-host Matt Lauer have perfected the art of morning TV newscasting, balancing soft and hard news, silly and serious with deceptive ease. But with Couric's polarizing influence reaching Hillary Clinton levels, it may be best that she moves on while we can still appreciate her ability, and in the process, force evening news viewers to choose between serious white guys in ties and whatever she decides to do next.

"In Katie Couric, I see a person who was born to be a morning show host," Felling said. "So what do you give the woman who has it all? You give her Walter Cronkite's chair, apparently."

[Last modified May 31, 2006, 06:42:16]


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