Anchor Away

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The Summer of Speculation is almost over for Katie Couric.

Since accepting the jobs of anchor and managing editor of "CBS Evening News," the former co-host of NBC's "Today" has been the subject of rampant guesswork and opinion. How will she fare? Will she change her broadcasting style? How will she impact nightly-news ratings overall? And, in what seems to be the overriding concern of some, what will she wear?

Those questions and others will be answered as the much-honored Couric becomes broadcast television's first solo female weeknight-news anchor on the newly revamped "CBS Evening News" set Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Some details still were being finalized in the days before her debut, but it's known that the newscast will boast fresh theme music by movie-score veteran James Horner ("Titanic"), that interim anchor Bob Schieffer will remain as a regular contributor and that the new segment "Free Speech" will give people from all walks of life an outlet for their views.

"Everything's great," Couric maintains as her CBS premiere nears. "I'm really having a wonderful time rolling up my sleeves and being part of a creative process that will hopefully make the news more engaging and more relevant for people. It is going to be a work in progress; everything we want to implement won't necessarily be ready by day one, but I think we're making a lot of strides and having a good time doing it.

"It's very exciting, because you're benefiting from all the terrific people and systems already in place, yet hopefully creating something different and fresh," Couric adds. "Whether you're talking about the music and saying, 'Can the trumpets be a little brighter?' or figuring out the sets and the graphics, it's a lot of fun."

With Couric's arrival, which also involves occasional work for "60 Minutes," CBS News is expanding its medical reporting to support an area in which she has great personal interest. Her days truly will be multimedia: She'll also be present on CBSNews.com -- through a simulcast of the newscast, an early look at the day's television version, extended interviews and an interactive blog -- and on CBS Radio, which will offer a daily "Katie Couric Reports" feature and simulcast the first segment of "CBS Evening News." Couric will anchor CBS' 5 p.m. (ET) radio newscast as well.

One of Couric's first moves at CBS was to embark on her midsummer "listening tour" of cities including Dallas, Denver and San Diego, where members of the public voiced thoughts on the choice and coverage of news stories.

Couric claims that trek "validated" the concept of the new "Free Speech" segment, "how we could provide a forum for people to express their points of view in an uninterrupted, nonconfrontational way. Our inkling that viewers might appreciate and enjoy a segment like that was borne out by the people we spoke with."

Particularly with the unrest in the Middle East in recent weeks, Couric recognizes the significance of the timing as she becomes the main face of CBS News.

"The world is a very complicated and often scary place right now," she says, "and I think helping people become better informed about it will help them make better decisions when it comes to the democratic process. It's a terrifying time, but it also presents an important opportunity."

And Couric notes that opportunity could take her to perilous places if the situation warrants. She vows that won't happen without due consideration of her off-camera role as the mother of Ellie and Carrie, her daughters by her late husband, attorney Jay Monahan.

"When it's important for me to advance the story by being somewhere, I will be there," she says. "I'm really not a fan of anchors parachuting into a location just to front the newscast. If there's real reporting and real work for me to do, it's obviously something I would be interested in pursuing. My family situation, what I'll be covering, where it is and what the circumstances are will all be carefully weighed."

Couric also is about to surface in CBS' prime-time lineup, since she'll anchor the post-9/11-themed special "Five Years Later -- How Safe Are We?" Wednesday, Sept. 6. Produced by CBS News veteran Susan Zirinsky ("48 Hours"), it will utilize many CBS reporters -- from chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan to national security correspondent David Martin -- in assessing homeland safety since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"Any time the intelligence and journalistic prowess of an entire news division can be brought to bear on a very important subject with national implications, I'd think you'd jump at the chance," Couric reasons. "Susan has been pushing for this for some time, and I'm delighted for everyone at CBS News that it got the green light."

Couric's first story as a "60 Minutes" contributor follows on Sept. 10. She declines to specify the topic for "competitive reasons."

And then, there is the matter of Couric's anchor wardrobe, which took on a life of its own when she was asked about it while meeting with many of the country's television critics at a July convention.

"It's OK, there's some interest in that area," she allows. "It's come up a couple of times, but I don't think people are necessarily obsessed with it. I think women have a bit more leeway in their fashion choices than men do, truth be told, so it's probably a little more interesting in general to people."

Even as Couric steps fully into her future at CBS, part of her heart still is with former NBC colleagues. At this writing, she intended to speak with her "Today" ex-partner Matt Lauer as soon as their schedules matched up. "We exchange little messages on our BlackBerrys," she says. "I've been thinking about him. I know he's been traveling and taking some time off, but I'm anxious to talk to him and just see how he's doing."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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