Katie Couric’s “Evening News” fell to third place Monday night, just six nights after she stormed into first in her debut week at CBS.
Couric’s debut as anchor of CBS’ “Evening News” brought in well over 13 million total viewers last week. While her audience dwindled from there, she finished the week with a comfortable 3 million-viewer lead over NBC’s “Nightly News” and ABC’s “World News.”
But on Monday, the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Couric resumed a ratings position only slightly better than the one Bob Schieffer left her with. Her 7.49 million total viewers were slightly behind ABC’s 7.87 million and NBC’s 8.27 million.
The margin between first and third was extremely close in ratings terms on Monday night — fewer than a million viewers — and CBS tied ABC in the key demographic for advertisers, adults 25-54.
There was some inter-network squabbling over whether the night represented a typical night of television. One might expect strong news audiences on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, but others argued auds were affected by President Bush’s speech on the West Coast as well as the first Monday night NFL games of the season.
“As I’ve said repeatedly and from day one, our focus is on the long-term developments, not the short term,” CBS News and Sports prexy Sean McManus said. “However, given that is was a somewhat atypical night of viewing, to be in this close competition for first place shows how far we’ve come in just one week.”
On Monday, Couric anchored the newscast from Ground Zero and appeared to have trouble holding back tears as she closed the newscast after a feature on a boy who lost his father on 9/11 and the young executive who volunteered to mentor him.
In the New York market, Fox’s “Geraldo at Large” outrated CBS’ “Evening News” in the 25-54 demo.
CBS’ fall to third was received with no small amount of glee in the news departments of NBC and ABC, which had little to do last week but stand by and wonder how many viewers who sampled her show would stick around long-term.
Rival nets pointed out that Couric’s “Evening News” aired the least amount of hard news among the network newscasts over the course of last week.
According to news analyst Andrew Tyndall, CBS aired 19 minutes of hard news last week, compared with 46 minutes for ABC and 44 minutes for NBC.
McManus addressed this initial criticism of the newscast last week by arguing that the week after Labor Day was a slow news week, and that feel-good stories are a constant feature of all network evening newscasts. In addition, CBS spent the first week establishing its new commentary segment, “Free Speech,” which took minutes away from the news hole.