Katie Couric's Leap Year

For Katie Couric, it’s been a rough six months in the anchor chair as the first female anchor of the CBS Evening News. But she still gets her kicks from taking enormous risks in public.

By Amy Wilentz

Her Own Spin

Seeing Couric in this secure, homey environment, with the bulbs at candlelight brightness and everything upholstered in warm reds and golds, I keep thinking about what it was like at the studio. The broadcast itself, at least viewed from the control room, is the epitome of tension, especially when, as with the recent night after tornadoes swept through the South, there is breaking news. And the anchor sits in the middle of the swirling stress like a mobile home in the middle of a twister, vulnerable to being undone by the smallest shift in timing or tone. It’s roughly 22 minutes a day, but those minutes are fraught with anxiety for all who create and package them. It’s like an insane roller-coaster ride whose only proper finish would be a stiff martini or a little yellow pill.

On air and off, in the world of network news, anything can happen. Three days after I meet with Couric, the executive producer of the NBC Nightly News — the show in the first-place spot — is fired. Two days after that, Couric’s executive producer is out. Although clearly concerned about her program’s ratings, Couric seems otherwise unfazed by her working conditions. Maybe the leather chairs and the dressing room and the $15 million a year are palliative. "I’ve tried to infuse the place with enthusiasm," she says of working at CBS, "and I’ve tried to have fun." She’s standing next to a console table in her front hallway that is topped by a dozen or so pictures of Katie and family, Katie and friends, Katie and heads of foreign states; there’s Katie and Prince Charles. (They look good together.) "I’ve tried to bring a little high-spiritedness along with me," she says, almost wistfully. "A little joyfulness. I hope the people at CBS are enjoying it, but, of course, the nightly news bunch is a fairly hard nut to crack. Some of them can’t quite make me out. I don’t pound my fist. I try to be reasonable and fair. I’m approachable. I’m accessible." "Nice" is her public persona. She has joked, with me and others, that her epitaph will be "Perky no more."

"It’s not to say that there aren’t people who hate me," she continues. "People see everything through their own prism." But for now, she’s thinking less about her coworkers than about her audience. She has the Web downloads going and the blog, and in 10 years, she expects, she’ll be doing something else entirely — a third act — but it’s clear she’s upbeat about delivering the news to as many people as possible through an old-fashioned TV screen. "I want to reach right through the screen to them," she says. She puts her head to one side and smiles that big, bright, good-girl smile.

Originally published in MORE magazine, May 2007.

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