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Katie Couric Likely To Leave CBS, Says Report; CBS Denies

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The Wall Street Journal's Rebecca Dana reports that Katie Couric is likely to leave CBS well before her contract expires in 2011:

After two years of record-low ratings, both CBS News executives and people close to Katie Couric say that the "CBS Evening News" anchor is likely to leave the network well before her contract expires in 2011 -- possibly soon after the presidential inauguration early next year.

Ms. Couric isn't even halfway through her five-year contract with CBS, which began in June 2006 and pays an annual salary of around $15 million. But CBS executives are under pressure to cut costs and improve ratings for the broadcast, which trails rival newscasts on ABC and NBC by wide margins.

Her departure would cap a difficult episode for CBS, which brought Ms. Couric to the network with considerable fanfare in a bid to catapult "Evening News" back into first place. Excluding several weeks of her tenure, Ms. Couric never bested the ratings of interim anchor Bob Schieffer, who was named to host the broadcast temporarily after "Evening News" anchor Dan Rather left the newscast in the wake of a discredited report on George W. Bush's National Guard service.

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The Los Angeles Times's Matea Gold reports that CBS is denying the rumor:

CBS News shot down a report Wednesday that implied that anchor Katie Couric was preparing to leave the network and her post on its flagship evening newscast as soon as next January, saying no such decision had been made.

"We are very proud of the 'CBS Evening News,' particularly our political coverage, and we have no plans for any changes regarding Katie or the broadcast," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Such an early exit for Couric would be another major embarrassment for CBS chief Les Moonves, who pushed for her hiring and has defended her vehemently since her arrival. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that CBS is considering outsourcing its newsgathering to CNN (though both parties denied), a sign of cutting costs that reflects the network's low ratings (indeed, Dan Rather connected the rumor to the company's low stock price and sluggish ratings under Moonves' and Sumner Redstone's leadership). The Couric-led CBS "Evening News" lost 1.1 million viewers in 2007, and it consistently lags behind ABC's "World News with Charles Gibson" and NBC's "Nightly News with Brian Williams" in the evening news ratings. CBS is also the only major network — and Couric the only major news anchor — yet to host a debate during this extended primary season.

The Wall Street Journal's Dana reports that Couric may replace Larry King on CNN after leaving CBS:

One possible new job for the Ms. Couric: succeeding Larry King at CNN. Mr. King, who is 74 years old, has a contract with the network into 2009. CNN President Jon Klein, a CBS veteran with close ties to some at the network, has expressed admiration for Ms. Couric's work, and the two are friends. They had lunch in late January, and the anchor attended Mr. Klein's birthday party in March. Time Warner Inc.'s CNN said, "Larry King is a great talent who consistently delivers the highest profile guests, and we have no plans to make a change." Through a publicist, Mr. King declined to comment.

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Gail Shister reported a similar story in April 2007 (in a story that has since disappeared from the Philly.com website but can be accessed through the cached report):

CBS executives deny it, but there's a growing feeling within the network that Katie Couric is an expensive, unfixable mistake.

So unfixable that Couric - the first woman to anchor a network nightly newscast solo - may leave CBS Evening News, probably after the 2008 presidential elections, to assume another role at the network, CBS sources say.

Despite her A-list celebrity, her $15 million salary, and a promotional blitz worthy of a Super Bowl, the former star of NBC's Today has failed to move the Nielsen needle on No. 3 Evening News since her debut seven months ago.

In a bottom-line business like television, that's a cardinal sin. Already-low morale in the news division is dropping, says a veteran correspondent there.

"It's a disaster. Everybody knows it's not working. CBS may not cut her loose, but I guarantee you, somebody's thinking about it. We're all hunkered down, waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Seven correspondents, producers and executives at CBS and other networks interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity, given the sensitive nature of the Couric situation.
April 22, 2007

At the time, a CBS rep called the piece "beyond ridiculous."

BusinessWeek's Jon Fine also predicted Katie Couric would leave the network after the election in his Media Predictions for 2008 at the end of last year.