Why CBS Chose the Wrong Guy to Replace Katie Couric

CBS has named the Katie Couric successor who will anchor the CBS Evening News, and it’s [drumroll] … Scott Pelley. Who? Exactly.

Well, you probably know who, even if you don’t exactly know why. Pelley is a company man. He's been with CBS News 21 years, and with 60 Minutes II (did you realize you were watching a sequel?) since its debut in 1999. He’s done many interesting reports for them! But Mr. Personality, he ain’t. The original 60 Minutes crew—Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Mike Wallace—these guys were the dream team, each quirky, larger-than-life, and brilliant in their own peculiar way. But Pelley just seems to recede into the background of whatever he’s reporting on. His bland good looks, his radio baritone, his lockjaw delivery—nothing particularly pops about this guy.

For CBS brass, this must have seemed like a logical choice. Promoting from the inside, while working against that “out-of-the-box” strategy that led to the Couric disappointment. But they are making a huge mistake! No one is going to watch CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley—except for your great-grandmother, and that’s because she lost her remote (you know, the kind that attaches to the TV with a cord) back in the late ‘70s and has been mostly content with having her boob-tube-credenza locked to the Tiffany Network ever since.

But everyone else is going to abandon the broadcast in droves! Let’s face it: The nightly news feels like a complete relic as it is. But at least NBC and ABC are clued-in to the fact that anchors have to exude a certain rock star sex appeal. So you have Brian Williams, who spends as much time sitcom- and talk show-hopping as he does reading news copy. And then you have Diane Sawyer, who I like to imagine asks her makeup person, “Do you have any lipstick that’s wetter and redder? No? How about just wetter?” before purring the news to us like we’re a kindergarten class gathered on a shag rug for story time.

Just about anyone else would have been a better choice. For example:

The Judges from NBC’s The Voice
Christina Aguilera, Cee-Lo Green, Adam Levine, and the Country Dude will sit with their backs to us. Every time a news story that interests them comes across the wire, they'll hit a button, spinning their command chairs around—at which point they’d have to fight over who gets to mentor “Syrian Uprisings Intensify.” Probably won’t happen, since they work for a competing network.

Larry King and Billie Jean King
In a monumental pairing billed as The CBS All-King News Hour: Battle of the Sexes, two beloved cultural icons square off reading the day’s headlines. Only one can win.

Tim Gunn
The dapper motivator of Project Runway, Tim Gunn could bring two new things to the nightly news: good fashion sense and a constant reminder to use wisely from the Piperlime Accessories Wall.

Katie Couric
A little older, a little wiser, a little...CBS Evening News. Try her again...for the very first time.

Comments (5)
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May 07, 2011
Not to insult Katie Couric but I don't think she ever should have been the job. It wasn't the right fit for her and as we saw it failed. To see a male replacement was expected. The question becomes whether to use a big name established person or to use a possibly lesser known but long-time person as the replacement. Honestly, I don't think they made the wrong choice with Scott Pelley. Will CBS suddenly become the highest rated news broadcast with this? Of course not but that's really not what their goal is. They need a decent anchor to begin with and Katie Couric failed in this role.
May 06, 2011
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May 04, 2011
I too agree with Vic. It is not the news networks' job to entertain or to provide eye candy but to impartially report the news and to inform the public so that they can be self-informed and conscientious global citizens...in an ideal world anyways (I mean, I don't really see that happening, but it would be nice). Instead, the three main evening news shows seem to cater to the lowest common denominator: they are easily accessible to the point of being condesending; each segment is a two minute sound bite with minimal context or information; they cater to the ADHD crowd in which there is a lot of shiny things, too much movement in the background whether its of the newsroom or a contextual backdrop, and also contain unnecessary graphs and graphics; and finally, they are all exceptionally ethnocentric, only giving a passing mention to the world outside of the U.S. To be fair, the cable news shows are just as complicit. For instance, perhaps two weeks ago, NBC Nightly News had a story about a serial murder case in the Northeastern United States. They believe that the murderer is someone within the police department, so Nightly News showed images from "Dexter" to go along with the story. They must think that their audience is pretty daft to plug a fictional show about a fictional killer; there is no connection whatsoever between the reality of the case at hand and the TV show. To be honest, I only watch network news out of schadenfreude and for a good laugh, but not to be informed. Contrast this with BBC News/BBC World News America, PBS' Newshour, and NPR's "The World" and "All Things Considered," just to name a few examples. These shows are actually intellectual, they demand your attention, actually cover world events in depth, and offer investigative journalism and thorough interviews. As an example, BBC News rotates its anchors regularly so that people don't grow too attatched to them. One should watch the news for the quality of its reporting, not for its reporters. Perhaps I'm being too critical on the "standard" news but we really should expect better. We should obtain information from a variety of quality sources, read a newspaper or book, and better yet, explore the world outside of yourself, so that you understand events and peoples' viewpoints and lives firsthand.
May 03, 2011
I'm with Vic. You may as well suggest that the Evening News be read by SpongeBob SquarePants.
May 03, 2011
Thanks for wasting my time. I thought you were going to try to make a legitimate point until I saw your list of alternatives. The problem with TV news is that it's treated as entertainment rather than part of the networks' obligation as a public service/trust. Personally, I was pulling for Bob Scheafer to take the anchor desk again. So if Scott Pelley is as "dull" and steady-voiced as you make him out to be, kudos and good luck to him. Now if the news would stop pandering to 20-30 year-plds who think of reality TV results as news and cover legitimate stories of consequence, I might consider watching again.