What I Don't Get About Why Katie Couric's Producer Got Fired
Got a call today from a producer for Howard Kurtz's media show on CNN, Reliable Sources. Looks like you're going to get some Deggans with your morning punditry at 10 a.m. this Sunday, when I come on to talk about producer Rome Hartman getting fired from the CBS Evening News last night (see Couric's obligatory gushing, regretful comments on her blog here) .
But, as I was spitballing the issues with Howie's producer this afternoon. I realized there were lots of things I wasn't understanding about this.
-- If CBS News president Sean McManus wants to wait a year before he starts seriously looking at ratings, like he told me last week, then why did Hartman lose his job at the six-month anniversary of Couric's debut -- just a few weeks after the show had posted some of its lowest ratings in months?
-- If CBS wants to turns around its troubled newscast, why did they hire as Hartman's replacement Rick Kaplan, a former CBS employee who was fired from both CNN and MSNBC for failing to boost ratings in jobs there?
--- IF CBS wants to rebuild a news organization still smarting from the drubbing they trook over Dan Rather's Memogate story and the firing which took months to implement, why are they bringing in Kaplan, who has a volatile management style and a reputation for running his newsrooms through fear and intimidation?
-- If CBS ratings crunchers warned them that Couric would draw a big early rating and then sink as all the curious viewers returned to whatever habits kept them from watching the evening news in the first place, why weren't executives like McManus better prepared for the drop?
It seems that CBS bet on a big name to change the game in evening news, and when that big name wasn't enough, they didn't have a plan B ready. Like NBC's recent move to can John Reiss from running the Nightly News, removing Hartman is the biggest change they can make short of replacing Couric -- who they have too much invested in to discard.
I'm still not sure that McManus understands non-sports news and I'm convinced that CBS president Les Moonves -- one of the most brilliant TV executives around -- definitely does not understand TV news.
I still think six months is a little early to be judging the success or failure of Couric's approach, given how slowly audiences change in evening news. But considering the amount of negative emails I got when my Monday story ran on Couric, she's about as divisive as Hillary Clinton when it comes to the evening news audience.
Wonder how Rick Kaplan is going to deal with that?