As Scott Pelley takes over CBS news anchor chair today, some reasons why he might succeed...or fail
Former CBS anchor Katie Couric is about to suck up all the media oxygen today with the expected announcement that she has signed a deal to host a syndicated talk show for ABC.
But before we get mired in speculation about whether this is any better fit for her than the CBS anchor chair, it's easy to forget her successor, Scott Pelley gets started today, giving the TV network's storied news division a new mascot and leader (in fact, one wonders if Couric's announcement today wasn't a bit of thunder-stealing, though I have no proof of that).
Every time one of these jobs changes hands, a new debate starts on whether we should care at all. Critics like me note the evening news still has the largest audience of news consumers in television, while others snark that it's a fading, aging crowd, suitable mostly for Cialis ads and MedicAlert bracelets.
The truth is, media today is ruled by the broad niche. Any show that can draw a sizable minority of viewers is valued and celebrated, which pretty much describes network TV newscasts.
And even though morning news is where the money lies, evening news anchors become the face and heart of a network news operation in singular ways. Couric never quite seemed to have her head in the news game the way competitors did; Pelley's ascension offers the opportunity for a helpful reboot. Here are a few thoughts on why Pelley might work, or crash worse than Couric did, when his show debuts at 6:30 tonight on WTSP-Ch. 10.
Why he might succeed
He's an amazing journalist: Pelley is the top anchor on TV's top newsmagazine, credited with delivering some of the show's most-watched and impactful stories, including the recent piece alleging superstar bicyclist Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. CBS needs to own some stories to make its newscast a destination, and Pelley seems uniquely suited to that task.
He's not a star: CBS News' no-frills attitude always seemed at odds with Couric's superstar ways. Now, the news division has an on-air leader known mostly for his journalism achievements and straight-arrow demeanor. Some stories have said he's particularly attentive to his colleagues, a quality that the perennially third-place newscast seriously could use.
He's from one of the only CBS News shows that wins its time slot: The ultimate TV scorecard is ratings. And 60 Minutes dominates its competition in ways The Early Show and Evening News can only dream of.
He's a traditionalist: Couric's continuing ratings troubles have been traced to problems converting a morning show image for traditional news consumers. Now, CBS' show is topped by a traditional, authoritative male anchor from the most old-school newsmagazine on TV. If he can't draw a traditional news audience to CBS, no one can.
Why he might fail
He has never been a full-time anchor: Amazing as Pelley is as a TV journalist, he hasn't done the job full time at the network before. Experts note the real skill of an anchor is showcasing correspondents, and Pelley's success there is yet to be seen. And say what you will about Couric, she co-anchored the Today show's riveting coverage of the biggest breaking news story in TV history, the Sept. 11 attacks.
He's not a star: 60 Minutes viewers may know Pelley, but he's not a headline-grabbing celebrity the way Couric has been. In fact, CBS talk show host David Letterman made an interesting choice for tonight's show, welcoming outgoing Today show co-host Meredith Vieira on Pelley's first day in the big chair.
He's a lot like the competition: NBC already earns top ratings with a young-ish, charismatic traditionalist anchor in Brian Williams. Evening news viewers seeking an alternative now have one less option.