Who will replace Katie Couric? is a question perplexing the best minds money can buy at CBS these days.
The same minds who stole Couric away from NBC for only $15 million a year until 2011.
The same minds who set Katie up for the fall. CBS advertising for her debut in 2006 evoked memories of Edward R. Murrow with See It Now, the title of Murrow's trailblazing news program, emblazoned in huge type. Talk about hubris. It is unlikely today that even Murrow could live up to such hype.
The public saw it now and decided they didn't like what they saw.
The same minds who then began changing the show. It went from soft news to hard news back to medium soft, medium hard. Whatever changes the great minds running CBS made, The CBS Evening News continued setting historic rating lows.
These were the same minds that had a record of going for star power as the answer, as in the case of luring Brian Gumbel away from NBC to do The CBS Morning News.
And the same ones who dumped Dan Rather ahead of time to make room for Plan K (the Couric Revolution).
A study done years ago analyzed the motivation of why people in TV try to become a vice president. The goal of getting that job, the study found, is because nobody knows what they do.
It is even harder to describe sometimes what the head of the company does when he isn't making bad decisions.
Credit for the latest disaster at CBS News seemed to go to Les Moonves, the Big Cheese Himself. At the time of his legendary "Kiss Me Kate" $15 million a year sweetheart contract, Moonves had said he didn't understand news. He once bragged the only thing he knew about the news he learned from Julie Chen, the co-host of CBS's The Early Show, and his wife.
The CBS News vice presidents in charge now are acting like stewards on the Titanic who think all they have to do is bring more ice for the drinks on deck as the band played on.
One thing you can be sure of, given their past record, with Admiral Moonves at the helm, CBS will be making the wrong decision about Couric's replacement as they smack right into the iceberg.
What really happened to Katie? She ran into the Katie Principle. It fell down, and is now crushing her.
Couric's so-called interviewing strengths and light-hearted manner may have been exaggerated.
She also may have been just too darn young for the network evening news audience, a demo which is 54-to-Dead. The stragglers left over from the network evening news audience instead of news they may like olds. Judging by the success of good old boy Charlie Gibson, the number one at ABC, which would seem one way to go.
CBS News is the Pittsburgh Pirates of the network evening, having had 12 losing seasons in a row. As it is being widely reported, the CBS News bench is thin due to long years of mismanagement.
They could go outside their weak farm system -- which has a bunch of guys named Russ Mitchell -- and draft a rookie from cable news.
Keith Olbermann of MSNBC would electrify the mordant CBS Evening News, but would probably send the audience into cardiac arrest. Anyway, NBC would probably want to use Olbermann to replace Brian Williams as soon the folks at home realize that Tom Brokaw is not on vacation or on assignment.
Bob Schieffer, 71, is an obvious choice. He can do the news from his leisure village. Schieffer's actually a serious news guy who has the right gravitas, and is the right demo. The only time The CBS Evening News ratings had gone up significantly in the last 12 years was when Schieffer took over after Rather jumped the shark. But he keeps talking about retiring.
While I'm giving free advice to Admiral Moonves and his assistants on the poop deck, I have a more radical suggestion. Why not bring back Dan Rather?
Dan is not the retiring type and he wasn't ready to go when they were making him walk the plank for that George the Flyboy story that blew up in CBS News' face in 2004-5. That's what his suit against the company is all about. Settle it.
This time I would let Rather be himself. Stop with all the news doctors who screwed him up the last time trying to turn him into a wooden anchorman. Let him be the real Dan Rather, newsman.
Also on the upside, Dan is used to being in third place. He is also a lot sharper today than Walter Cronkite in his last days.
And if Moonves and his crack executive team of decision-makers don't want to play any of their recent discards, I would bring back Mike Wallace. He is still the greatest newsreader of all time. I realize Mike is getting on in years (89 and counting). But I remember seeing him doing the evening news at CBS for a full week with his arm in a sling! The guy is so compelling.