CBS backs Couric

Anchor had expressed regret over NBC switch

CBS News and Sports prexy Sean McManus are backing Katie Couric after the anchor expressed misgivings about her move from NBC’s “Today” to the “Evening News.”

“She has a five-year contract with CBS to anchor the evening news,” McManus told the AP. “All of us, including Katie, expect her to be anchoring the evening news in her fifth year.”

Any speculation to the contrary, he added, “is insulting and is absurd.”

Couric signed a five-year $75 million deal with CBS that began in September, but in an interview in New York magazine published this week she said “if it turns out it wasn’t a perfect fit, then, you know I’ll do something else that’s really exciting and fulfilling for me.”

Her recent comments have triggered speculation that she might seek a full-time move to “60 Minutes” and that CBS would cut its losses and seek her replacement.

On Monday CBS News announced plans to cover the 2008 presidential campaign that included Couric moderating CBS’ Dec. 10 presidential debate in Los Angeles. Couric will anchor all election coverage and be joined by chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer and senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield.

“Evening News” exec producer Rick Kaplan told New York the elections would give Couric the chance to “prove her mettle.”

Couric’s numbers are off 6% from last year and she remains in third-place despite heavy promotion around her debut in September. In March, CBS sacked producer Rome Hartman, who had attempted to shake up the format, and brought in network vet Kaplan to return the broadcast to its hard-news roots.

Viewers haven’t yet responded; during May sweeps the “Evening News” was down a million viewers — 6.1 million compared with 7.1 million a year ago — and the “Evening News” recently hit a 20-year weekly ratings low.

NBC’s Brian Williams has also dropped 6% of his audience since September. NBC’s “Nightly News” has dropped 600,000 viewers since January, allowing ABC’s Charles Gibson to pull ahead in the ratings.

Since January, Gibson’s “World News” has been the No. 1 evening newscast averaging 8.59 million viewers, compared with NBC’s “Nightly News” with 8.44 million and CBS’s “Evening News” with 6.71 million.

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