Katie Couric staying at CBS News

McManus reaffirms network's commitment

Katie Couric’s not going anywhere.

Speculation over her departure from “CBS Evening News” had died down in recent weeks, but on Friday, Couric and CBS News/Sports prexy Sean McManus reaffirmed their commitment to the newscast as configured.

“We have no plans to part company any time soon,” Couric told reporters at the Eye’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour. “There were a lot of speculative pieces that I think got spun out of control. We always assess how the show is doing and what direction we want it to go in … but I’m very committed to the people here and the product and can say that (rumors of an exit) are not true.”

McManus backed that up, dismissing talk of Couric’s departure: “I can say, and I have said, that it’s not true.”

Couric called the amount of attention she’s received in the job “befuddling.”

“I can’t really control what media writers write,” she said. “I think sometimes we live in a bit of an echo chamber that probably the people in your room and obviously the people here are more fascinated by things along these lines than anyone else in the real world … I spend every day really focused on doing the best job I can.”

Bob Schieffer, who anchored the broadcast before Couric took over, also defended the show and its performance.

“This is a very good newscast,” he said. “We measure up very well. Some days you get the bear and some days they get you … I’m very proud to be a part of it.”

McManus, Couric, Schieffer and senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield defended the decision of the nets — including CBS — to send their top anchors along as Barack Obama travels to Iraq. The nets have been accused of paying more attention to Obama’s campaign vs. John McCain’s candidacy.

“Any time a candidate questioned about his stance on policy makes their first trip to the Middle East it’s an enormous event,” McManus said. “If we didn’t cover it, we wouldn’t be doing our job. It’s the biggest news of the week.”

Greenfield pointed out that it’s news that a candidate is traveling overseas — and to a war zone, no less — so close to the election. He also promised that the news media wouldn’t use kid gloves on the trip.

“It’s not as if this will be North Korea TV covering Kim Jong Il,” he said.

Couric called the Obama campaign’s decision to invite the media for extensive interviews on the trip “deft” and suggested that CBS would have responded the same way had McCain extended the same offer.

Earlier in the day, CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler elaborated on the departure next season of “CSI” star William Petersen. The void left by Petersen’s exit will be filled by a new character with a secret: He’s aware he shares a genetic profile similar to that seen in serial killers.

Tassler said casting is ongoing to fill that role; John Malkovich’s name had been mentioned, but Tassler said he’s not a candidate — although the net is looking for character-driven thesps in that vein. Another name that has entered speculation: Laurence Fishburne.

Exec said she wasn’t concerned about any negative impact on “CSI” due to Petersen’s departure, pointing to the smooth transition last year on “Criminal Minds.”

“That show will be extremely resilient,” she said.

As for the cancellation of “Moonlight,” which had a small but loyal following, Tassler said the campaigns to save the show appear to center on star Alex O’Laughlin.

“Right now we don’t question the choice we made,” she said of the cancellation. “We’re not getting as much mail, and most of it is actor-centric.”

That’s in contrast to the previous fan campaign to save “Jericho,” which centered on the show.

“That was an Internet campaign the likes of which we’ve never seen before,” Tassler said of the “Jericho” push. Bringing back the show “was certainly worth giving a try.”

Meanwhile, Tassler wouldn’t comment on the fate of “Swingtown” — it’s not expected to return — but admitted that she was disappointed by the show’s ratings perf.

And Tassler said the net probably won’t repurpose any more series from Showtime, a la “Dexter.” That show performed OK for the Eye but was borrowed by the net specifically because of the writers strike.

One thing viewers may see more of: shows coming from outside the U.S., such as “Flashpoint,” CBS’ co-production with Canada’s CTV.

“That was a strike aberration, which turned into something terrific,” she said. “We’re continuing the trend to look at the world in a different context. … It’s a global playground. Even writers and producers are bringing product to us from overseas.”

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