03.25.11

Katie Couric Plots CBS Exit

The CBS Evening News anchor is very likely to leave in June and Scott Pelley is a top contender to replace her but CBS is looking both within and outside the network, Howard Kurtz reports.

The CBS Evening News anchor is very likely to leave in June, and Scott Pelley is a top contender to replace her—but CBS is looking both within and outside the network, Howard Kurtz reports. Plus, behind the CBS News shakeup.

The search is on for Katie Couric’s successor.

The new CBS News chairman, Jeff Fager, is looking at candidates both within and outside the network, insiders say.

Gallery: 14 Media Quakes

One strong contender if Couric vacates the anchor chair in early June, as now seems almost certain, is veteran newsman Scott Pelley. The 60 Minutes correspondent has long been a favorite of Fager, who doubles as the show’s executive producer. But with Fager taking a methodical approach to his first major decision, Pelley is not a lock. A few short weeks ago, the expectation in the Couric camp—after discussions with top CBS management—was that she would sign a new deal to stay in the anchor’s job through the 2012 elections as she figured out the next phase of her career. But the thinking on both sides has now changed as Couric has aggressively tested the waters—and found substantial interest in her services.

After jumping from the Today show in 2006, Couric realized what many skeptics had predicted, that a 22-minute newscast was confining and gave her little opportunity to showcase her interviewing and ad libbing talents. She is now exploring daytime or syndication deals—including with CBS, whose chairman, Les Moonves, remains a strong supporter. CBS is hopeful about finding a way to keep Couric, but her team is also talking to her former network, NBC; to ABC, and to Time Warner.

If she is to launch a syndicated program in the fall of 2012, it would debut in the middle of the general election campaign—and the enormous preparation involved in such a launch would be difficult if her day job was as a network anchor.

Couric told David Letterman this week she has “no idea” what comes next when her five-year deal expires. “I’m figuring out what I want to do,” she said.

Fager has been notably noncommittal about his star anchor, fostering the impression that he is open to a change. When he was named chairman, Fager said he wanted to “spend some time with Katie to find out what she wants to do and what she sees is best for her and what’s best for CBS News.”

CBS might want to go for a bigger name than Pelley, whose prospects were noted by the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. But he is familiar to the network’s viewers, and bringing in an outsider has its own set of challenges, as Couric learned while trying to adapt to the CBS culture.

Katie Couric Slams NYT Errors

Howard Kurtz: Behind the CBS News Shakeup
Pelley, a Texan who began his career at a station in Lubbock, is the opposite of a celebrity journalist. A White House correspondent for CBS during the Clinton administration, he landed the first interview with George W. Bush as president-elect. Pelley has reported from around the world, including such war zones as Iraq and Afghanistan. He and his team have won numerous awards, including 15 Emmys, for stories on such subjects as the BP oil spill, civilian deaths in Iraq, and child slavery in India.

Scott Pelley, a Texan who began his career at a station in Lubbock, is the opposite of a celebrity journalist.

While no one would question Pelley’s hard-news credentials, he may lack the flair to boost the CBS Evening News out of third place. But then, he—or whoever the network picks—will be making far less than Couric’s $15 million annual salary.

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.