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Katie Couric and the Feminization of TV News

Wednesday, 06 September 2006 12:00 AM

The much-heralded debut of Katie Couric as the new sole anchorperson of "The CBS Evening News" proved at least one clear thing: Network news has now become thoroughly feminized. Call it "CBS Evening News Lite."

For weeks in advance, airheaded pundits prattled about how her ascension to the anchor "throne" represented an ultimate victory for feminism — now comes a woman earning such a high position and salary in a profession previously dominated by men.

While some might see this as a milestone for career women, newshounds can only regret that serious news coverage has given way to a sort of video treatment of the women's sections of daily newspapers.

With only about 20 minutes allotted to the important news of the day, Couric's initial broadcast was a touchy-feely smorgasbord of surrealistic atmospherics and smarmy theatrics wrapped in a patchwork quilt of lifestyle stories, headlines and commentary pieces.

Even new theme music was commissioned from film composer James Horner —softer, less threatening and more feminine than the martial, alpha male strains that previously introduced Dan Rather on his perch.

No expense was spared by CBS in the marketing of what it called "the changing of the guard." A new set was built so that Couric need not be restricted to having to sit in the anchor chair. Now she can meander around the set or sit on top of the huge desk while introducing news stories and film clips, somewhat like a peripatetic elementary schoolteacher who passes among the desks of her charges to relieve the boredom of remaining stationary.

With somewhat mannered poses and a demeanor that runs from cheery to a forced seriousness, Couric's carefully modulated delivery comes off with the same kindergarten schoolmarm sanctimony that serves Diane Sawyer so well.

In preparation for this moment, CBS did everything it could think of to prepare the public for their next-generation, "perky" news anchor, much like an author's book tour, or driving the old Oscar Mayer Wienermobile from town to town to stimulate the sale of hot dogs. Not only did they place her in a friendly

Starting last June, Couric was sent off to a number of "town hall forum" meetings — otherwise known as focus groups — in six cities across the country, so that CBS News moguls could "hear from regular folks on a broad range of issues." This feedback through Couric was supposed to inform the network on how it should shape the program.

Aside from the nagging question as to whether Couric is a lightweight when it comes to news reporting — CBS being long mired in last place behind ABC and NBC in the ratings — the network's shameless promotion of her as a commodity, and their eagerness to design the show around her, to make her appear serious, makes one wonder whether they haven't put the cart before the horse.

Shouldn't the ebb and flow of the day's news determine the substance and tenor of the show, instead of a quota of canned lifestyle stories and pre-scheduled opinion pieces? Why should the evening news be indistinguishable from the myriad "news magazine" shows like "20/20" or "Dateline"? These programs have devolved into pure entertainment venues, so why should "The CBS Evening News" emulate them?

So, on her debut program, she led off with a piece on the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, later followed by a story on Chevron's new oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico. By that time, the show was already flailing, with a gloomy liberal view of events in the Middle East by Thomas Friedman to a "Free Speech" segment of undigested and pointless opinion by the guy who ate too many Big Macs at McDonald's.

A People magazine-like short on photos of Tom Cruise's new baby was followed by a "sensitive and heart-warming" piece on a young American whose mission is to give kids in a Nicaraguan orphanage painted portraits of themselves.

The show seems to exude a lot of blather about sharing opinions, swapping stories, and "we want to know what you think, blah, blah, blah." Sorry, Katie. I just want to know what happened during the day that was important. I don't care about minutiae about Joe or Jane Doaks, how often they mow their lawn or what disease they have. I don't think anyone else does, either.

What's next, a doctor discussing hemorrhoid treatment? An animal psychologist? Advice for the lovelorn? It's simply that the "Today" show has taken over "The CBS Evening News."

A ridiculous plea capped the show, in which Couric solicited the viewing audience to suggest a snappy phrase that she could make memorable by using it every evening as a sign-off.

How about simply "Goodnight and we're sorry"?

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The much-heralded debut of Katie Couric as the new sole anchorperson of "The CBS Evening News" proved at least one clear thing: Network news has now become thoroughly feminized.Call it "CBS Evening News Lite." For weeks in advance, airheaded pundits prattled about how...
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2006-00-06
Wednesday, 06 September 2006 12:00 AM
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